The first fond memory Abraham Kiplagat has of coming to America, was when he and his parents landed at the Des Moines International Airport and were met by his grandaunt and first cousin who were already living in the United States. It was early September and the trees had just started to change colors, a stark contrast from the scenery in his native home in Trans-Nzoia County, Kenya. For then 10-year-old Kiplagat, the view from the car window during the ride to his grandaunt’s house was filled with things he had only learned about in school as a child.
“I was amazed at how beautiful everything looked,” Kiplagat said. “Since I was young at the time, every building and house seemed huge to me. The roadways were probably the biggest shock. I was amazed at how everyone could drive so fast and responsibly, and they seemed to know where they were going with exit ways everywhere.”
For many military members, a deployment means an opportunity to visit a land that is foreign to their own. But for Spc. Abraham Kiplagat, an infantryman with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment, currently deployed with Task Force Bayonet to the Horn of Africa, it is a chance to return to the native region of his ancestors.
Task Force Bayonet, an element comprised of National Guard Soldiers from Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa, is spread out across East Africa. The primary mission of the task force is to provide base security, port security and a Quick Reaction Force throughout the region in a joint working environment with other U.S and foreign service branches.
Kiplagat, who is stationed at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, said that being back in the Horn of Africa is a great feeling, and that he is enjoying training with the Djiboutian Armed Forces and the local nationals working on post.
“I enjoy working alongside the local KBR personnel and building a connection and friendship with them,” he said. “I get to work with them every time I am on shift.”
Kiplagat is currently participating in the French Desert Commando Course for the second time, where he has the opportunity to train alongside the Djiboutian Armed Forces in a field environment hosted by the French Forces of Djibouti. Soldiers participating in the event are put to the test through intense physical challenges, while also learning basic survival skills such as primitive cooking methods. During the first course that Kiplagat attended, he worked primarily with the French.
“Working with the French Forces of Djibouti was an amazing experience,” he said. “I got to see how their Soldiers are brave, well-trained and in fantastic shape. Working with them was one of the highlights of my career.”
For Kiplagat’s family, service to country and community is a long-standing tradition. His father was in the police force and worked for the Municipal Council of Eldoret in Kenya from 1998-2009. His grandfather was law enforcement in Kenya from the 1970’s through 2005. One of his aunts has been serving in the Kenyan Defense Forces since 2007. Another uncle works with the Criminal Investigations Department and he also has a granduncle who served in law enforcement in Kenya up until 2018.
His decision to serve in the United States military came as no surprise to Kiplagat’s family, and they remain supportive and encouraging of his decision. His uncle, Luka Rotich, from Kitale, Kenya, said that he and the rest of Kiplagat’s family couldn’t be prouder.
“I am so proud of him for joining the Army,” Rotich said. “It takes a lot of courage and dedication to do so. I want him to know that he is appreciated, admired and amazing. I like that he has come back to the Horn of Africa, so close to home.”
Prior to deploying, Kiplagat was studying to be an auto mechanic at Des Moines Community College in Des Moines, Iowa. He will only have three semesters left to finish when he returns. Among the many aspects of American culture that he enjoys, Kiplagat said that thinking big and chasing the American dream is his favorite.
“I love the idea of thinking big and chasing that American dream,” he said. “Dirty hands and clean money. Also, being a part of a melting pot because everyone is from different backgrounds and cultures, and It’s filed with various beliefs, values and traditions.”
Even though his family continues to practice traditions of their culture through means of daily traditional cooking and wearing traditional clothing such as the Dashiki and Vitenge to functions or church, Kiplagat said there is one thing he truly misses about life in Kenya.
“I miss the farming,” he said. “My whole family basically farms in Kenya and it’s a way of life.”
Although they are not running a farming operation in the states, Kiplagat’s family continues the tradition of growing their own food and sharing with the community at their home in Des Moines.
“We have a community garden back home and we also have a huge garden in our backyard,” he said. “We grow all of our vegetables and are able to live off them year-round.”
In the end, Kiplagat said that although he misses his home in Kenya from time to time, he is happy that his family came to the United States and that he has been able to experience all of those things first hand that he first saw through the car window on that September day.
“I’m glad that my family took the opportunity to move to the United States,” he said. “It opened up many doors for the whole family. We were able to start a new life, receive a better education, great career opportunities and I have a chance to serve in the strongest military in the world.”