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    One Soldier’s journey from Senegal to commissioned US Army officer



    Story by 1st Lt. Ian Shay 

    U.S. Army Africa

    VICENZA, Italy – When the United States ended the draft requirement for military service 46 years ago, the Army needed to reinvent its approach to recruitment. This approach required the Army to become smaller, diverse and have a more adaptable presence. This could only be obtained by recruiting a more diverse group of Soldiers. One of those unique individuals is Capt. Mamadou Sylla, a U.S. Army Africa theater security cooperation planner, who joined USARAF in March of 2018.

    Sylla, a native of Dakar, Senegal, located in West Africa, attended the University of Dakar, majoring in business management and economics. After graduating, he worked in a bank, but decided that he wanted to immigrate to the U.S.

    “My relentless pursuit of self-improvement drove me to make the decision to immigrate to the U.S. through an immigration program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State,” Sylla said. “It was not an easy transition. When I arrived in the USA, I had just left my friends, my family, my country, my home. It was the first time in my life that I felt like an outcast, like an alien.”

    In addition to the cultural and social adjustments he had to make, Sylla was not able to secure an equivalent job to the one he had left in Senegal. Upon arriving in 1999, he accepted a job as manufacturing assembly lane worker in Providence, Rhode Island, even though his education and background far exceeded the job requirements.

    Within a few weeks of getting his new job, he enrolled in the Learning Enhancement for Adults Program at the University of Rhode Island and in an English as a second language course at Providence College. Rather than impede his progress, the new surroundings, lack of support and other transitional hardships strengthened his resolve to improve his circumstances.

    “I worked hard, but as a new immigrant, my opportunities remained limited,” Sylla said. “That is when I turned to the Army, to pay for my education, and to set a paradigm for the next generation to emulate.”

    In his new career as an enlisted Soldier, Sylla worked as a paralegal specialist with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Germany from 2001-2005. In 2004, he deployed to Iraq, where he served in Tikrit, Samarra and Balad, and earned a Combat Action Badge. In addition to his paralegal work, he served in his career, as the noncommissioned officer in charge for both trial defense and brigade legal office.

    “My unique experience, background and accomplishments provided me with a sound legal background on which the Army capitalized on,” Sylla said. “There is no greater honor than to serve my country. The United States offered me an opportunity for prosperity, recognition, dignity, hope and dreams.”

    Six years later, in 2010, Sylla was interested in pursuing new opportunities and applied for Officer Candidate School.

    “I have gained invaluable experience as a Soldier while serving in diverse operational environments,” said Sylla. “I willingly took on, and even sought out, positions of greater responsibility to challenge myself personally and professionally.

    “I choose to apply for OCS to become an officer because of my desire to better myself and my family, and, further, to seek the challenges of leadership and to convey my gratitude to the Army and the United States.”

    Sylla now finds himself using his unique background to benefit USARAF in very tangible ways by using his Senegalese heritage. Sylla was asked to conduct a leader professional development course June 7, 2019, in Senegal to help unite the U.S. Army and Senegalese Armed Forces, utilizing that unique perspective.

    The LPD allowed for open discussion focusing on what it takes to be a successful leader. Sylla discussed leadership traits, teamwork, worldview and cultural understanding, and enabling subordinates, using his own unique personal experience for examples. The LPD also put a special emphasis on the strength of the longstanding relationship between U.S. Army and SAF and the future that relationship has in store.

    “The LPD is an absolute honor and privilege. It is an opportunity, in some capacity, to give back to the two countries I am dearly grateful, and to serve and impact the careers of both the U.S. and Senegal cadets,” Sylla said. “I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that I would have such great honor and privilege, by far one of the coolest things that I have ever done in my career. For, that, I convey my heartfelt thank you and gratitude to my leaders in (USARAF) G3 and to the Senegalese Army.”

    This LPD is part of U.S. Army’s Cadet Command’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program. CULP is a cultural training program designed to help cadets understand culture and its influence on military operations, be aware of personal biases, be able to analyze regional culture, appreciate strategic impact of personal actions and understand importance of maintaining personal and organizational cross-cultural capabilities.

    “Captain Sylla is an outstanding officer, who is the lead planner for multiple theater security cooperation cases in West and Central Africa,” said Lt. Col. Eldridge Browne, the G35 future operations chief, USARAF. “Having been born in Senegal, his ability to speak multiple languages enables him to be the perfect ambassador for U.S. Army efforts in Africa. He brings to our partner nations the U.S. Army education and professionalism, but is able to relate to them in a different way. He is able to show them that through hard work anything is possible.”

    Sylla has a few words to those cadets lucky enough to be selected for his class.
    “I will tell them that our nation, and, in particular, our Army, are both places where all people, no matter their background, can achieve great success if they are willing to work hard,” Sylla said.

    “Joining the Army is not just simply spewing patriotic lip service, it is a commitment to defend a way of life and ideals. I would share the experiences and challenges in my journey hoping that I would inspire them. My story unequivocally demonstrates that the American dream is alive and well, and that it is truly worth defending.”



    Date Taken: 07.03.2019
    Date Posted: 08.08.2019 07:40
    Story ID: 330176
    Location: PROVIDENCE, RI, US 
    Hometown: DAKAR, SN
    Hometown: PROVIDENCE, RI, US

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    One Soldier’s journey from Senegal to commissioned US Army officer