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Born in Africa, ROTC student to soon become Army lieutenant – The Killeen Daily Herald

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Updated: September 26, 2021 @ 8:55 am
Benjamin Asiedu Kwayisi Jr., 24, is a student and ROTC Cadet at Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen.

Benjamin Asiedu Kwayisi Jr., 24, is a student and ROTC Cadet at Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen.
Benjamin Asiedu Kwayisi Jr., 24, was born in Ghana, West Africa, more than 10,000 miles and one Atlantic Ocean away from Killeen. However, it was not where, but how he came into the world that would come to define his future.
Military service was, quite literally, in his blood. Both his paternal grandfather, Benjamin, and his father, Franklin, served in the U.S. Army as a result of a Standard of Forces Agreement offering training and equipment to their country.
Kwayisi, now a student and ROTC Cadet at Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen, remembers growing up in his home country, walking to school, jumping muddy puddles alongside the dirt roads where others discarded their food and waste.
His mother, he remembers, carried water on her head until their neighborhood united to build a well. Local markets had live animals, but money was required for that.
Their family lived in a house made of bricks fashioned out of hay and manure. It was a place where they slept on the floor, grateful for a roof over their heads.
“The power was provided by the government,” he said. “It was common for us to go months, or sometimes years, without lights.”
By the time he was 8, the family received word from his father that they were being stationed at Fort Drum in New York. And Kwayisi, the child who once walked the unpaved roads of his homeland would find himself in New York City, surrounded by so many high-rise structures, that it was often difficult for him to catch a glimpse of the sky.
Although he held dual citizenship by virtue of his father’s military service, coming to the U.S. was equal parts fascination and fear. Like any child, he questioned everything, he said, laughing at his naivete.
“I think I probably drove our U.S. family members crazy,” he said. “I wanted to know about everything. How did water come out of a faucet? How did elevators work?”
At 14, he took a job at a local food market, bagging groceries, determined to provide economic stability to the family.
His father, a special forces medic, had been an example of hard work as far back as he could remember, deployed to Germany, and after 9/11, to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It was extremely hard,” he said. “The deployments had taken their toll on my father who blunted the trauma of his military service with alcohol. I have vivid memories of being hungry — of my brothers and sisters being hungry. I had to figure out a way to keep my family fed.”
Long before he would mature and grow into the broad shoulders that now comfortably fill out the carefully pressed camouflage of his uniform, he was the involuntary man of the family, burdened with finding a way out of the bone-crushing poverty that haunted his childhood.
As a high school freshman, he and his family had moved again, this time relocating to Germany. There, he discovered a program that allowed him to experience the military, not as a military child, but as a soldier.
“It opened my eyes,” he said. “I saw structure and stability. I remember thinking to myself, ‘These people are making their own living and being of service to their country.’ That’s what I want.”
As inspired as he may have been, life continued to get in the way. He was sent back to the New York City to live with relatives. It was there that he, as a maturing young man, would be challenged to bring forward the strength of will present at his own birth.
He saw a homeless person take a machete to a police officer’s head. A casual friend shoplifted and blamed it on him. An uncle went to jail for murder in a fight over a $700 debt.
“I felt unsafe wherever I was,” he said slowly. “There were gangs everywhere; it was almost impossible to just live your life without fear.”
After high school, he attended college, and ended up marrying a soldier.
He and his wife, Yanilis Arroyo Cruz, a specialist in the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood would begin their own family.
“We had a son,” he said. “And the tuition at UT-Arlington was expensive. I didn’t want to take that kind of money from my family, so when we left Arlington for Killeen where my wife was assigned, I found A&M-Central Texas.”
For most military families, especially those serving as enlisted men and women, budget considerations are always top of mind. And, in Kwayisi’s case, years of being without had made him cautious. But he had an obligation to the ROTC to remain enrolled full-time.
“There was no comparing the tuition difference,” he laughed. “With the money I paid for tuition for one semester at UT-Arlington, I could finish my entire degree at A&M-Central Texas. It was a perfect fit.”
Now, Kwayisi and his family of four, including son, Micah, 2, and Milana, 9 months, are looking to the future and all that he overcame just to be where he is today.
“I have had so many angels around me,” he said humbly. “And yea. There were bad things. There were struggles and tragedies and things I had to get beyond.
“But one thing I have learned is that everyone has a past. No one has it easy. Most of us struggle. The question is, ‘Do we let our circumstances define us or do we see beyond them to what we might be? I wanted to break the chain that defined the men in my family before me. I want those chains broken here and now. I want my son to know his life will be better.’”
Kwayisi spends his days now as a full-time student and ROTC cadet. When he isn’t attending mandatory training, routine drills, early morning runs, or late-night study sessions, he takes a moment to reflect on how far he has come and far he will still go.
“My wife has plans for us after I’m commissioned,” he laughs, again flashing that easy, but somewhat infrequent smile. “The Army is my boss from sunup to sundown. She’s the boss the rest of the time.”
This coming spring, when he not only walks the stage at commencement to receive his undergraduate degree in psychology, but also joins a projected class of 23 other cadets scheduled to be commissioned, he looks forward to standing on the dais with his family as the rank of second lieutenant replaces the stripes on his current uniform.
Capt. Thomas Souza, assistant professor of Military Science, confirmed that Kwayisi’s class will be the biggest class of commissioned cadets that A&M-Central Texas has ever had. And that Kwayisi has reason to be proud.
Cadets went through summer training, he said, completing nine days of tactical fieldtraining including leadership, marksmanship, squad and platoon drills, land navigation, six-, eight-, and twelve-mile ruck marches, the Army Combat Fitness Test, the Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT), and, for good measure, they also rappelled from a 40 ft. tower and survival training in a gas chamber.
“Like a lot of young cadets, Kwayisi struggled to conceptualize what we were teaching at first,” Souza said. “But no matter how many times it wasn’t right, and no matter how many times he had to do it again, he kept trying. He is successful because of his heart and his character.”
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