A Bridge Between Cultures
Sitting across from U.S. Navy Reserve Petty Officer 1st Class David Ampofo, an information systems specialist, he comes across as any other sailor in the United States Navy.
His uniform is crisp, clean and smartly put together. His broad smile reflects a deep pride that comes from more than 10 years of service.
His accent gives him away.
"I was born in Accra, Ghana," said the petty officer who is now homebased in Lawrenceville, Ga. "I used to work for the U.S. State Department in Africa, so I have traveled quite a bit throughout the continent."
It was following his last assignment in Uganda, according to Ampofo, that he decided to resign his position with the U.S. State Department and move to The United States. He worked several jobs before deciding to pursue his college education. After earning two masters degrees in information systems management and project management, Ampofo was inspired to enlist in the Navy Reserve. With his ten-year service anniversary approaching, he found himself saying goodbye to his five children, leaving his self-owned information technology business and deploying to the continent of his birth.
"It's good to be close to home," he said as he leaned back in his chair and looked off to the side. "But, sometimes I feel a separation from the people of my birthplace."
As an African native, deployed as an American servicemember and citizen, Ampofo brings a unique perspective to Camp Lemonnier.
"Rich or poor, Africans are a very proud people," he said. "Sometimes they think Americans are only helping them to get more from them later."
During his year and a half as a deployed Naval Reservist, Ampofo said he has noticed misconceptions on both sides that have led to mistrust in a few isolated situations.
"Trust must be earned," he said.
Ampofo said that trust is and has been here achieved when both parties abandon the pre-conceived prejudices associated with the other's cultures. Leaning forward, he begins an analogy to illustrate his point.
"Imagine if I came to your door, an African man carrying a large bag of money," he began. "I handed it to you and told you I was here to help you. How would you feel? Would you trust me, or would you wonder if there was a catch?"
He paused before continuing. "The mission of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa is extremely important," he said. "Americans learn just as much from Africans as Africans can from us; Which is why partnering with the African people here to enhance stability and dissuade conflicts within their own countries is so rewarding for Ampofo.
"The best part about being here is helping others," Ampofo stated. "But we need to continue to mingle with the people to better understand them."
Ampofo said sometimes the grand gestures don't mean as much as the smaller ones. Sometimes, just a bottle of water and a friendly chat makes all the difference. An ideal supported by the CJTF-HOA approach of diplomacy, development and defense.
"All the money in the world can be pumped into a place, but it won't matter unless the concept of self-sufficiency is funneled in as well," he said. "Money can be squandered; but the sharing of best practices in many areas in their own nation can't."
The rice, milk, oil and other goods donated to Africa by the international community only solve the surface problems, Ampofo said. In order to truly help this continent, the mission of CJTF-HOA must continue to go forward to work with the people, continue to earn their trust and continue to share best practices with them in building a stable infrastructure. Ampofo said he carries that idea of empowerment with him wherever he goes. When he redeploys, he said he will miss the people of Africa deeply. While his adopted nation has welcomed him with open arms and given him a home within its borders and citizenry, his African heritage will always be here.
"Look at me," he said, tapping his hand to his chest. "I'm an African AND an American; and I am equally proud of both!"