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I'm an Airman Engineer: Always seek new challenges

This engineer, a native of Sierra Leone, considers himself to be at the right place at the right time to be part of Air Force Civil Engineering. His journey started with an enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve ... 

Capt. Bernard Wesley recalls his journey from Sierra Leone to enlisting in the Marine Corps before becoming an Air Force Civil Engineering officer. (Courtesy photo)
Capt. Bernard Wesley
23rd Civil Engineer Squadron
Moody AFB
, Ga.

    I guess my reasons for joining (the United States military) were two-fold: to be a professional soldier while at the same time giving something back to my new, adopted country.

   Since the day I joined the Marines, I dreamed of becoming an officer. But obstacles were in my way. I had to complete my civil engineering degree and become a U.S citizen. After completing my undergraduate degree in civil engineering from State University of New York at Buffalo, I moved to Atlanta, and I was still determined to become an officer.

   My citizenship was granted in 2005, and I immediately started communicating with recruiters from all the branches. After I become frustrated by the slow pace of the Navy recruiter, an Air Force master sergeant suggested that I speak to an Air Force recruiter. It just so happened that the week I contacted the Air Force recruiter, there was drill at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia. The recruiter scheduled an interview for me with the commander of the 628th Civil Engineer Flight (now the 622nd CEF) at Dobbins. I interviewed with now retired U.S. Air Force Reserve Col. Theron Stancil who accepted my application to join the unit.

   The Air Force was completely new to me for a few reasons. I was enlisted, a rifleman and a Marine. Now I was a commissioned civil engineer and an Airman. Yes, it was almost the same enigma I had when I came to the United States from Africa. Never mind the differences; I was still in the military!

   After I joined the Air Force, my goal was to become proficient in learning my job, but I did not fully understand what that meant. As an officer in the reserves, I was not exposed to the everyday life of a CE officer until 2009, when I deployed to Balad, Iraq. It was a life-changing experience. Immediately after that deployment, I challenged myself to be more involved, not only as a CE officer, but also as an Air Force officer. I looked for opportunities to experience a broad perspective of Air Force operations.

   At the start of my career, it was challenging to find the right mentor - a hybrid mentor who understood both the active and reserve worlds. To accomplish this task, I realized I had to venture outside of my comfort zone, which was not new to me. As a young boy in Sierra Leone, I loved playing hand tennis. There was no net in the middle, and the court can be of any size. A perfect hit depended on the serve from the opponent or a returned play. You were always waiting for that perfect hit to make a point. This is analogous in finding a mentor. Accept any challenge made available (the serve) because you never know when you will get a big hit (mentor). I can firmly say my exposure helped me to land several mentors who continue to shape my career.

   As a CE officer, the range of responsibilities, from construction to readiness, is very exciting. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to serve in engineering, operations support, operations, readiness and real property at the base level, major command and headquarters Air Force. Going into these assignments, I thought about each as a construction engineer starting a project at a new site would; the site conditions are always different. Assignments are always different, yet the desired outcomes are the same. A building is standing at the end of construction, and likewise a desired goal will be reached at the end of an assignment.

   Nowadays, most people know what civil engineers do in the Air Force. However, I get a blank stare when I say that emergency management is part of CE. This gives me the opportunity to help others understand the full scope of civil engineering.

   My goals are very simple: seek new challenges and perform them well. My advice to others - active duty or reserve - is to seek new opportunities or challenges. You may not realize it at the time, but often this will prepare you for the next challenge.

   Finally, I leave you with this. When I left the shores of Gambia in 1998 for the United States, I came to a new country with this in mind: Step into the unknown, do not be afraid, and seek opportunities. If I can, you will!

(Editor's Note: This article is part of the "I'm an Airman Engineer" series for CE Magazine and CE Online. The series focuses on individual CE Airmen to highlight their careers and the diversity, knowledge, career fields and people within our communityWesley is the individual mobilization augmented to the operations flight commander of the 23rd CES)