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By Emeka Obasi
Growing up was a terrible experience for Michael Uzoma Nnadozie whose childhood entailed fleeing from jet fighters and bombers strafing innocent civilians including children and witnessing the worst form of starvation.
Nnadozie survived Civil War in Biafra and relocated to the United States less than two decades after the crisis. His eyes were on flying and he studied courses that would lead to becoming a pilot.
That dream was not realized but the young man succeeded in joining the United States Army. The decision turned out good as Lt. Col Nnadozie became the first Active Duty Doctor of Nurse Practice in the United States Army.
From Isu, in the Nwangele Local Government Are of Imo State, Nnadozie landed in Omaha, Nebraska to begin a new life. Omaha is an Igbo name too and Imo had something to do with Nebraska.
In the Second Republic, Governor Sam Mbakwe, chose to partner with Nebraska University to establish Imo State University in 1981. Dropping in Nebraska, Nnadozie must have heaved a sigh of relief.
From Omaha, he relocated to Houston, Texas. In America, God’s own country, Jesus does not always feed the multitude. The new comer did not wait for manna from Heaven. Any job was better than no job, as long as it was safe.
And education was vital. With an Associate degree in Aeronautical science from San Jacinto College, it was not going to be difficult to get started. So he thought. Nnadozie was not yet an American citizen. It worked against his ambition.
Another degree, this time, in Aviation Management from the American Technological University was acquired. This was all in the bid to fly. That did not help either.
In 1987, Nnadozie took a bold decision to join the Army. That of course, was a faster way to American citizenship. He was used to troops anyway. The last headquarters of the Biafra Army was Isu Grammar School.
As a soldier, he became a medical supply specialist. It meant more knowledge had to be acquired. Nnadozie went to Perdue University for a second Associate degree. The soldier also bagged another degree in Nursing.
Reward came in 1996 with an officer commission. Holder of four degrees, Nnadozie continued to acquire more. His fifth was in Family nursing. The climax came when he bagged a doctorate in Nursing Practice.
That made him the first Active Duty doctor of Nurse Practice in the United States Army. I doubt if the Nigerian government celebrated this feat by one of us. This man should be of interest to Mrs Abike Dabiri and his Diaspora Affairs Department.
The Foreign Affairs ministry apparently did not know that on February 5, 2008, President George W. Bush, sent a letter to the United States Senate asking that some officers be promoted to the rank of Major. One of them was Nnadozie.
Some of the recommended officers bore the surnames of important world figures. There was a David Carter, a Sharon Blair and Kevan Weaver. Two of the female officers had their names ending with man: Stacey Freeman and Catracy Goodman.
In 2015, Barack Obama was the one who wrote the US Senate to elevate Nnadozie and many others to the rank of Lt. Col. of the US Army.
Nnadozie was not restricted to service in the United States. He was in Vietnam as part of the Defence POW [Prisoner of War]/MIA [Missing In Action] Accounting Agency [DPAA] involved excavation operations in Tay Ninh.
His brief was to search for two American servicemen, missing in action since 1967 following an L-19 airplane crash. “The DPAA mission is to provide the fullest accounting for missing personnel to their families and the nation.”
That is why America is different. They are still bent on accounting for their men who died in Vietnam while fighting the Viet Cong. The soil is tested and technology is applied in the search.
Different specialists were sent to Tay Ninh. Staff Sergeant Samantha Brenneman is a mortuary affairs expert. Scott Watson is an archaeologist in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Sergeant Bryan Ryder, an Infantryman.
They also sent Capt. Lawrence Csazar, Sergeant Jesse Chelf and Sergeant James Earley. Servicemen from the US Air Force base in Guam and other units in the Far East were called in.
It is was of interest that Nnadozie, a mere seven year-old boy in Biafra when the L-19 aircraft crashed in 1967, was called upon as an American officer in 2016 to search for the remains of service men.
It reminded me of Captain David Brown, an American pilot whose DC 10 aircraft was shot down by a Nigerian Air Force MiG 17 on June 5, 1968. He was flying in food and other relief materials to Biafra.
Brown was a Second World War veteran and his Red Cross plane was clearly marked. After taking off from Equatorial Guinea, the aircraft was destroyed around Opobo. The pilot died with a Swede and two Norwegians.
I also remember August Harvey Martin, the first African American pilot in the United States. His Lockheed L 1049 G crashed in rainstorm at the Uli Airport on July 1, 1968.
Harvey died with his second wife, Gladys, as they tried to fly food to starving Biafran children. He had joined the Army in 1943 and also flew a B-25 after he left the Navy for the Army.
These were the pictures Nnadozie grew up with, little wonder he chose the United States and wanted to be a pilot. He must be a proud man today as an officer of the US Army.
Lt. Col. Mike Nnadozie retired last year. In February 2018, an elaborate retirement ceremony was organized for him at the Fort Hoods, Texas Phantom Warrior Centre.
Among the retirees were: Lt. Cols Edward Cooney, Tia Winston, Michele Reid and Major John Jun.
Recently, Nnadozie was honoured with the Legacy Alumni Certificate by the A and M University, Central Texas. That name was adopted by American Technological University in 2009.
Lt. Col. Nnadozie is retired but not tired. He lives in Kileen, Texas and has not forgotten his roots. This warrior is proudly Nigerian.