MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
There are many ways to distinguish yourself from a group of people. Maybe you’re the smartest, most athletic or funniest person in a group. Maybe you have a different background or speak a different language.
If you’re Gabirele McStanislav-Cudjoe, a cadet in Air Force Officer Training School, you’re from a different country, your first spoken language isn’t English and you came from a different branch of the U.S. military. Of all the differences between McStanislav-Cudjoe and his fellow cadets, however, the one thing that truly makes him stand out is his heart.
In May 2008, 25-year-old McStanislav-Cudjoe left his hometown of Accra, Ghana, where his first spoken language was Ewe. Although he already had a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering, he sought opportunities that he couldn’t get in his home country. In Ghana, there are things that the citizens there don’t have control over. Leaving his home country wasn’t his first plan, but no other country offered such opportunity as the United States of America.
McStanislav-Cudjoe had a scholarship lined up for a master’s in business administration program in the states, but after he arrived in the U.S., the scholarship fell through. He continued to work odd jobs to pay the bills, eventually starting a master’s in intelligence management. A year after starting graduate school, McStanislav-Cudjoe joined the Navy as a personnel specialist.
“Education is all you have; it’s all that you can take with you from place to place and job to job,” said McStanislav-Cudjoe.
While in the Navy, he completed his master’s in intelligence management, as well as a master’s in business administration. He earned both graduate degrees through the University of Maryland University College by age 34.
McStanislav-Cudjoe wasn’t able to commission in the Navy, but still felt the call to lead.
He decided to pursue a commission in the Air Force, and was accepted into Officer Training School to be an acquisitions officer after graduation.
One of the things that sets McStanislav-Cudjoe apart from his fellow cadets in OTS is that his perspective is eternally positive, and his background is a major reason for that.
“When you feel like people are denied opportunities simply because of where they are from, you want to do something to ensure the generations that follow don’t have that same fate,” he said.
His attitude toward OTS is a refreshing change of pace. While many cadets are frustrated with the seemingly endless rules and regulations, McStanislav-Cudjoe embraces the challenge. He believes that the curriculum is designed to change all of the cadets into something better, but they can only get the most out of it through hard work and dedication.
“The curriculum here is designed to shape you,” he said. “We are all required to work with a team, and it’s the responsibility of everyone around you to make sure everyone is being held accountable. We are tried and tested over and over. Your desire for growth and development will determine how much you get out of this course.”
He knows graduating won’t be easy, but will rely on his education and experiences overseas and as a Sailor to carry him through. His view is that no one can fit in with all groups of people completely, but they can bring forth their unique characteristics during the team building process.
“You should always remind yourself of your purpose in life, so that you can embrace what is outside your comfort zone and accomplish something great,” he said.
One of the biggest sources of inspiration for McStanislav-Cudjoe is his family, which includes his wife and 7-year-old son. All of his extended family is still in Ghana.
“When people who look like you see you doing something, they start to think they can do it, too,” said McStanislav-Cudjoe.
It’s this mindset that guides him in his quest to be a role model for his son. Like most fathers, he wants his son to have as many opportunities as possible, and he wants to be the one to show him that people can do anything. He wants to show that if someone believes in something enough, they will find a way around the obstacles before them no matter what happens.
McStanislav-Cudjoe’s infectious optimism has spread to his fellow students. Barry Alexander, a cadet in the same flight, knows that someone like McStanislav-Cudjoe doesn’t come around every day.
“Gabriele is an individual in my flight with a story that should be heard,” said Alexander. “He came and grabbed the American dream, and it couldn’t have happened to a better person.”
Moving forward from OTS and into the operational Air Force, McStanislav-Cudjoe has a few goals. First, since someone gave him the opportunity to succeed and become an officer, he wants to give a similar opportunity to another.
“Value the opportunities that come your way, and make sure you do something with your opportunities,” he said.
In addition, since some leaders fail to recognize talent, McStanislav-Cudjoe would like to cultivate the change to make sure that talent isn’t being overlooked. He also hopes that, by the end of OTS, he has at least inspired one person to be better than they are.
“If you’re going to be an officer in the Armed Forces, you have to give something back, to inspire others and give them something to aspire to,” he said.
Finally, he wants to complete a doctoral degree in either international relations or global leadership.
A man like McStanislav-Cudjoe has proven that he can navigate the obstacles before him. When he continues to do it as an Airman the same way he did as a Sailor, the Air Force is going to find out that they snatched a great leader from a sister service.