CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan - Lance Cpl. Mamadou Balde’s father, Al, always hoped his son would earn his U.S. citizenship. Balde, a maintenance mechanic with General Support 2 Platoon, Retrograde
Operations Company, Redeployment and Retrograde in Support of Reset and Reconstitution Operations Group, finally earned his citizenship in a ceremony at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, March
Balde’s journey to citizenship took patience, strength, and sacrifice. Balde was born in Guinea, a war-torn country in West
Africa that has been in constant turmoil since gaining independence in 1958. For nearly 10 years, he and his two siblings lived with his grandmother and immediate relatives in Guinea until
Al, who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1990, could build a better life for them.
“My dad wanted to get us away from all the constant fighting,” said Balde. “I didn’t really get to know him until I was almost 10 years old.”
Balde’s childhood in Guinea wasn’t privileged. He walked 30 miles each day just to attend school and spent most of his free time playing soccer and card games that he, his cousins and friends made up.
In 1999, Balde and his siblings were finally able to join his father in Chicago. The move to the United States was a culture shock to Balde who only spoke Fula, a West African dialect, and a little bit of French. It would take Balde about a year and a half to learn English.
“No one outside of our house spoke [Fula], so I had to pick up English fast,” said Balde, who admitted he also watched ‘Days Of Our Lives’ to learn English.
In school, Balde struggled to fit in at first but has since gained a very assertive view of himself.
“They made fun of me because I was so skinny and handsome,” added a not-so-modest Balde. “It was hard to deal with because there was nobody that could understand (me).”
After graduating high school in 2009, Balde enlisted in the Marine Corps. He is the first in his family to join the service.
“My dad brags about me all the time to our little community (back home),” said Balde. “But he always (stressed) to me how important it was to get my citizenship.”
When Balde, stationed out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., attached to R4OG upon arriving in Afghanistan he told his command about his aspiration to become a United States citizen.
Balde’s unit was very supportive of his decision to become a citizen. His squad leader, Cpl. Allen Nicholas, said the command decided to send Balde to Camp Leatherneck where he was able to talk to the right people about getting his citizenship. Nicholas said the entire unit helped quiz Balde on his knowledge for the test.
“I already knew a lot of it, but everyone would joke around and grill me with all these questions, so the test was pretty simple for me,” said Balde, who is on his second deployment. “My unit was very supportive to say the least. They helped me get it all done as soon as I told them about it. Once I got my citizenship, my dad was very proud and even more excited about it than me.”
Balde said his time in the Marine Corps is coming to an end as his enlistment ends in November. He plans on visiting Guinea for a couple of months before attending college to study history.
Balde said his experience in the Marine Corps has been rewarding, but admits it is time for him to move on.