Coming to America

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE, Texas -- As part of the world’s greatest Air Force, American Airmen must build and maintain credibility as a diverse and inclusive workforce to ensure mission success. The strength of the 17th Training Wing draws from a varied populace of American military citizens who support the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and Firefighting mission.

Our differences make us more agile, innovative and effective.

For Senior Airman Stephen E. Yelbert, 17th Training Wing Comptroller Squadron financial service technician, diversity is second nature.

“I grew up in Ghana,” said Yelbert. “It’s bordered by mostly French speaking countries and home to Mount Kilimanjaro.”

Working at a printing press, he wanted more, he wanted to go to college, and grow his mind, set himself up for success and take advantage of opportunities.

This desire led him to the United States through the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. The bureau has a visa lottery where applicants are randomly selected and given a visa to America. The process took nine months for Yelbert and soon after arriving in America, he joined the Air Force.

“I actually tried to join the Ghana Air Force, but I didn’t get selected,” said Yelbert. “I was trained and ready to go, but I could not enter due to tight selection criteria. In high school, I was a part of the cadets, like Jr. ROTC here in the states, and I loved it. I loved wearing uniforms. I chose the Air Force, because it was the better of all the services, to me and for me.”

Yelbert grew up working on a farm, growing food and gardening. Now in the U.S., living in an apartment, he has a hard time reviving his old hobbies.

“I loved working on the farm,” said Yelbert. “Getting dirty, growing food and eating from the garden, I think it was great. I do miss that. It’s hard to garden here. I do plant here, but it’s not the same as having land. I actually rent an apartment, so I cannot do that. I miss it. It’s an exercise by itself. You know, bending down to pull weeds growing something, you tend to love it.”

In Ghana, students pay for education unlike here where high school is not only virtually free, but mandatory. Yelbert faced many hardships like not affording school, but maintained a positive attitude and looks back at his upbringing with pride.

“I know you hear this a lot,” said Yelbert. “But growing up, it wasn’t much. Wasn’t much at all. There wasn’t too much to go around, but it wasn’t that bad when compared to other people. My dad had a job with an American company, so he had a good job. He could bring bread home, so it was not that bad. For clothes I wore tattered clothes, but my mom knew how to sew so I was okay. I would get kicked out of school for school fees. You have to pay to go to school in Africa. You have to pay for everything. Nothing is free in Africa. Paying for school for all those kids, food, it was not easy. But we were able to go on and it made me who I am right now. I would never have it any other way.”

Since joining the Air Force, Yelbert has hit the ground running, accruing over 60 hours of volunteer work and numerous work related awards.

“I plan on commissioning and doing the ROTC program and I’m working on my application and hopefully I can become a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force,” said Yelbert. “If I could retire as a major, that would be the biggest accomplishment in my immediate family, so I could take care of my wife and my family back in Ghana.”