CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Nigerian-born Cpl. Chijioke I. Okereke went from attending college on another continent to serving as a U.S. Marine fighting in the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq.
Nine months ago, Okereke, a motor transport operator for Regimental Combat Team-2, arrived in Iraq, where he is supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom by driving re-supply and security vehicles for operations in the Al Anbar province. These operations ‘outside the wire’ provide varying experiences as he attaches to units from the Marines, U.S. Army Special Forces and Iraqi Army.
He enjoys being an operator because he also gets the opportunity to meet new people and see places throughout the province others may not.
“Sometimes I get to drive people from one place to another and get to know them,” the 25-year-old said. “I also get to see new places I otherwise wouldn’t be able to see.”
Getting to see new places isn’t anything new to him, though. Moving from Nigeria to the United States and now to Iraq in just a few years is all the traveling one person could ask for.
Okereke graduated from high school at 16 and left his native country at the age of 18 to further his college education in a country many dub “The Land of Opportunities.” The decision was made to move from Enugu, Nigeria, where had been attending the University of Nigeria.
“The school my friends and I were attending closed down so we decided to leave and go to the U.S.,” Okereke said, his strong accent touching every word as he spoke. “Since I had friends going to Chicago, I decided to go there, too.”
Okereke moved to Kirksville, Mo., after spending time in Chicago. With the help of his parents, both lawyers in Nigeria, he attended Truman State University, where he majored in computer science.
“I already started a major in mechanical engineering in Nigeria, but noticed that in order to be successful you have to know a lot about computers and I didn’t know anything,” Okereke said. “I wanted to get the experience with computers so when I go back to mechanical engineering, I will be a step ahead.”
Okereke first heard the call of duty from the Marine Corps while attending college. The strongest influence in joining the Marines came from long-time friends that enlisted and told him what it was all about.
“My friends joined before me, so they talked about the Marine Corps all the time,” Okereke commented. “I wanted to do what they did and become a Marine.”
So in November 2003 he joined the Corps.
Not long after he arrived at his first unit aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Okereke asked to go to Iraq. But at the time his command needed him and he was turned down for the early deployment.
But it wasn’t long before he got his chance to go. While with 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, his wish was granted and he was chosen to leave his unit and support RCT-2 in Iraq for approximately a year.
“I wanted to see what Iraq was like for myself,” he said. “I saw it on T.V., in the movies and heard about it from people. I wanted to be able to say to people, I was there.”
After his deployment, Okereke will return to his unit and hopes to get the chance to see more of the Marine Corps and the world. He would like to continue serving his country and hopes to be assigned Marine Security Guard duty at one of the numerous embassies around the globe.
“I’d like to see a lot more of the world,” Okereke said. “I think that being part of MSG would give me the chance to do just what I wanted. Who knows, maybe I can go work at the embassy back in Nigeria.”