On May 24, 2021, Airman 1st Class Waicha Gondwe recited her Oath of Allegiance, marking the completion of her journey to become a U.S. Citizen. Born and raised in Zambia, Gondwe is a material management specialist with the 127th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base (SANGB), Michigan.
Her husband, Master Sgt. Suzgo Gondwe, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 127th Maintenance Squadron, SANGB, also born and raised in Zambia, achieved his U.S. citizenship 18 years ago.
Arriving in the United States in 2001 through an education exchange program, Suzgo first enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After serving eight years in the Marine Wing Support Group 47, an aviation combat service support unit based at SANGB, he switched services in 2011, enlisting in the Michigan Air National Guard (MIANG).
“In 2003, I had the distinct honor to recite my Oath of Allegiance in my Marine uniform, it was one of the days I am most proud of,” he said. “After becoming an American citizen and during one of my trips back to Zambia, I met Waicha who I would one day marry.”
After several years of nurturing a long distance relationship, the Gondwe’s married in 2018 and Waicha then moved to Michigan.
“After arriving here, Suzgo, wasted no time in helping me join the MIANG, and in May 2019 I left for basic training, following the successful path he took nearly 18 years prior,” she said. “It’s almost a dream come true - in less than three years, I have become an American citizen and am working for a great organization like the Michigan Air National Guard.”
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 328, special provisions apply to those who serve in the U.S. military (active duty, reserves or National Guard) that allow them to file for naturalization based on their current or prior U.S. military service.
The Gondwe’s mobilized together in 2020 as part of the state’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force (JTF) 172 supporting local food banks.
Waicha is one of the 95 Airmen serving with the JTF 172, assisting the Food Gatherers of Ann Arbor. The JTF 172 team has helped the Food Gatherers distribute millions of pounds of food to more than 145 local food pantries and meal programs.
Suzgo is a federal employee assigned as a maintenance production controller at SANGB, and currently serves as the MIANG noncommissioned officer in charge of the Joint Task Force 172. He leads more than 90 Airmen working in food banks throughout the state.
The National Guard provides an opportunity for individuals to live in their communities while serving their country and state part-time. This enables Guard members to pursue full time education, employment and other personal interests or goals. Michigan National Guard members can receive educational financial assistance such as $14,000 for in-state tuition assistance, the G.I. Bill and the G.I. Bill Kicker. Waicha is taking advantage of the Michigan National Guard State Tuition Assistance Program as a full-time student pursuing an accounting degree at Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor.
“The benefits we have received as being part of the MIANG have enriched our lives,” Waicha said. “After serving two years in the MIANG, I have decided to eventually take on an officer commission upon graduation,” she said.
The Gondwe’s intend on making the MIANG one of their career paths for retirement benefits.
“The Gondwe’s are an incredible team, it has been an honor to work side-by-side with Suzgo on the JTF 172 mission,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Major Joseph Gregory, the JTF 172 Joint Force Headquarters, senior noncommissioned officer in charge.
Since 2002, more than 139,000 members of the U.S. military have been naturalized, both at home and abroad. Naturalization ceremonies have taken place in more than 30 countries and in 2020, more than 4,500 service members were naturalized.
“The past 20 years of my life have been more fulfilling than I ever expected,” said Suzgo. “My wife and I could have never accomplished so much without having the MIANG in our corner.”
Individuals looking for more information about how serving in the Michigan Army or Air National Guard can offer great opportunities and be a life changing experience are encouraged to contact recruiters at: Michigan Army National Guard recruiting, www.miarmyguard.com, 888-906-1636 or the Michigan Army National Guard app or Michigan Air National Guard recruiting, 1-800-432-4296 or Facebook at https://facebook.com/MIANGRecruiting/.