As a kid in the war-torn country of Uganda, joining the United States Army was a far-off dream for Sgt. Jacob Bamwenda. A dream stoked by watching American military movies about Special Operations and Delta Force, like those starring Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone.
“I saw Soldiers every day, all the time, in real life. When I was a kid there was always war, always some conflict or coup happening. It wasn’t always rosy but we made it through, somehow”, said Bamwenda. “Coming to America and joining the Army was always my dream. I wanted to be in one of those high intensity fields like Special Forces, I would tell people ‘if I ever got the chance, I’d do it’.”
Bamwenda got his chance in 2007, after he had gained residency in the United States. Although a medical logistics specialist (68J) is pretty far from Special Operations Forces, the intensity Bamwenda puts into his job ensuring the soldiers in Detroit have the proper equipment they need to fight the COVID-19 virus makes it no less special.
“It feels amazing to be here knowing I am helping people. It’s the one thing we all put the uniform on for. It doesn’t matter where you are from when you put it on. Uganda, America, it makes no difference, we are all soldiers," said Bamwenda.
It seems Bamwenda was born to do just that, help people, in and out of uniform. Bamwenda first came to the United States in 2001 with a cultural exchange program. Spending over a year working at the Indian Trails Camp, a facility for people with disabilities located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After working at the camp, Bamwenda eventually relocated to Illinois, gaining residency before enlisting in the Army in 2007.
“I love it,” Bamwenda said when asked how it feels being a soldier. “I’ll stay in the Army for as long as I can, as long as the Army lets me do it, I’ll do it. Wherever they need me, whatever they want me to do, that’s what I’m here for.”
As an Army Reserve Soldier who also works as a building technology specialist for Siemens, Bamwenda was ready to help when that call came in. He was given little time to prepare after being told his unit was being activated to assist the Department of Defense COVID-19 response, but there was no hesitation from Bamwenda.
“I said to my wife, ‘This is it, I have to go,’ and I was gone in 72 hours.” The husband and father of three said, “It has been tough being away, and is hard on them, but they are very supportive”.
His family has been taking it in stride, first dealing with the quarantine order and having to stay home, and now having their husband and father away from home.
“At first the kids were having a blast, being out of school, but now having to stay indoors is getting to them, especially as the weather becomes nicer,” said Bamwenda. “They also worry about me being in the field. They are scared, but they know it’s my duty.”
That sense of duty, selfless service, and love of country runs in the Bamwenda family. His oldest son, 17, has enlisted in the U.S. Army. He will leave for basic training as soon as he completes high school, later this year.
Sgt. Jacob Bamwenda is from Lake in the Hills, Illinois, and serves in the 801st Combat Support Hospital out of Indianapolis, Indiana. He is currently deployed with the Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force 801-2 in support of the Department of Defense COVID-19 response. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need.