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From Senegal to citizenship: One Conn. Soldier's story

By Maj. Michael Petersen | Connecticut National Guard | Dec. 28, 2017

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - He enlisted in April 2017, looking forward to accomplishing his training, returning to Connecticut as a qualified Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic assigned to Alpha Company, 192nd Engineer Battalion and proudly serving his nation.

But for Pvt. Joshua Weah, the United States only recently became his nation. The young Guard member hails from Dakar, Senegal, moved to America less than five years ago and recently became a United States citizen.

"I first stepped foot into the United States during the summer of 2012 to visit some family members in Connecticut," Weah, 22, said in an email interview while back home visiting family and celebrating the December holidays in Senegal. "During that year, I returned to Senegal in order to complete high school, and the following year, I returned to the United States around December."

On December 14, 2017, at the Brien McMahon Federal Building in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Pvt. Weah raised his right hand for the second time this year and officially became a United States citizen.

Proudly wearing his uniform and joined by family, Weah could hardly believe the moment he had waited so long for had finally arrived.

"It was a long journey that pretty much started the moment I returned to the United States (in 2013)," Weah said. "When it finally came time to raise my right hand, it felt surreal."

Weah's story was uncovered in early December, when he accepted an invitation to join state leadership in a ceremony honoring the National Guard's 381st birthday. To celebrate, Command Sgt. Maj. John Carragher, State Command Sergeant Major of the Connecticut Army National Guard, found the longest and shortest serving Guard members available to take part in a traditional cake-cutting ceremony.

Weah teamed up with 41-year veteran, Master Sgt. Davis Foster, assigned to the 143rd Regional Support Group, but not before speaking with Carragher, Maj. Gen. Thad Martin, adjutant deneral and commander of the Connecticut National Guard and Brig. Gen. Francis Evon, assistant adjutant general.

"Every year, we invite one of our newest service members to take part (in the cake cutting) in order to introduce them to their leadership and give them another source of information to obtain advice from," Carragher said. "Weah embodies everything we look for in a Soldier. I was truly honored to meet him and wish him the best in his new career as a Connecticut National Guardsman."

It was during his talk with senior leadership that Carragher learned about his upcoming citizenship ceremony.

Decked out in his OCPs, Weah was joined by his aunt, his nephew and his niece. Also in attendance was Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Coya, his recruiter.

"As a recruiter, you have the privilege of seeing the newest generation of Guardsmen start their military journey," Coya said after attending Weah's ceremony. "When I learned that Weah was finally obtaining something he has worked so hard for, I couldn't pass up the chance to be there and support a fellow Connecticut Guardsman."

English is not Weah's first language, although you would hardly know it in a conversation with him. French is his primary language, but he also speaks Creole and Wolof, the most widely-spoken language in Senegal.

"I didn't speak any English when I first came to the United States," Weah said. "It was tough, but I began to pick up bits and pieces through conversation. That's how I really got the hang of it – by speaking and communicating with those around me."

Weah knows that his new life as an American citizen is a step on a much longer journey, but he advises anyone that takes the same path never forgets their roots.

"Becoming a citizen is an honor, but you always have to remember where you first began and where you first started," Weah said. "Appreciate everything that you go through, and once you're a citizen, don't forget to help those around you."