Coming to America

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael A. Cossaboom
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Born in the small town of Bamenda, Cameroon, located in West Africa, Airman 1st Class Valerie Shinwen, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management specialist, grew up with his grandparents awaiting the day that he may finally visit the land of his dreams, America.

"My mom used to tell me stories of America," said Shinwen in his West African accent. "My mom spent a lot of time in America, so every chance I would get I would talk to her about it."

Shinwen, the third of five children, frequently received gifts from his parents who worked in America. They would send movies, games and anything else they could find that Shinwen and his siblings would enjoy.

"I loved watching movies like 'Rambo,' 'The Terminator,' and 'The Lord of the Rings,'" said Shinwen. "It would just keep building up the suspense of coming to America for me. It was exciting knowing that someday I would finally be able to go to America and achieve my dream of becoming an American citizen."

When Shinwen was 17, he and his three sisters and brother moved to Saint Paul, Minn. on a visa as beneficiaries to live with their parents.

With just over 12 million immigrants in the U.S. in 2007 at the time of Shinwen's arrival, there were countless others in the country also trying to obtain their American citizenship.

"It was mind-blowing when I finally reached America," said Shinwen with a smile. "But even though I just got to this new place and wanted to explore everything, I had to get my priorities right. I had to get my education and I had to get my American citizenship."

After completing his senior year of high school in 2008, Shinwen went to Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn., where he would would start his first goal, getting an education.

While in college, Shinwen battled homelessness, poverty and family problems.

"Me and my brother were homeless for a while while I was in college," said Shinwen. "We had no money and our parents' weren't helping much, so it made it difficult to get by."

In 2011, Shinwen completed his associate degree in arts, humanities and science.

"I had my education," said Shinwen. "Up next was my citizenship and I knew exactly how I wanted to do it. I was going to go out and do the most honorable job any person can do. I wanted to be an Airman."

As soon as Shinwen arrived at basic military training, he started the process of trying to get his American citizenship. He asked anyone he could, but people told him it was impossible to do at BMT; that it would never happen.

"Never say never," said Shinwen. "People told me I couldn't do it, but one way or another I would get it done."

During the eighth week of training, when Airmen get to see their families after being away from them, Shinwen took his mother and sister around the base trying to figure out how to get his citizenship.

"I went everywhere on base trying to find the right people to talk to, but they weren't helping much," said Shinwen. "So what did I do? I kept trying; I wasn't going to stop until I got it."

After arriving at technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Shinwen continued to pursue his dream of becoming an American citizen.

"Once I got to technical school everything started happening," said Shinwen. "People from my detachment were showing me what to do and helping me every step of the way."

Shortly after the completion of technical school, Shinwen arrived at Shaw AFB, S.C., his first duty station.

Within two weeks, Shinwen's lifelong, hard-fought for dream finally became a reality.

Shinwen recalled, "I was an American citizen," as he jumped from his chair with excitement.

"Shinwen is a great guy," said Airman 1st Class Colin Hundt, 20th CES pest management journeyman. "He works hard, day in and day out, and everything he has achieved to this point in his life has all been because he's earned it."

Hundt has worked with Shinwen for approximately a year and they do almost every work order together.

"Shinwen and I do a lot of jobs together," said Hundt. "I couldn't wish for a better co-worker."

Shinwen went through a lot to achieve his dream, but with dedication and a never say never attitude, he made it.