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A service for military industry professionals · Sunday, August 19, 2018 · 459,171,157 Articles · 3+ Million Readers

Face of Defense: Family Reunites After 4 Years Apart

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan., Sept. 12, 2017 — Four years -- that’s how long he waited.

Messan Atayi moved to the United States from Togo in 2013, leaving behind his pregnant wife. Now an Air Force airman first class and an individual protective equipment journeyman with the 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron here, he was reunited with his wife Aug. 18 and met his daughter for the first time.

Atayi was selected for the Diversity Visa Program -- also known as the green card lottery -- which makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from nations with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. About 14.7 million applications were received for the fiscal year 2018 program, State Department officials reported. And since applications can include spouses and children, more than 23 million people were included in the fiscal 2018 lottery.

Under the federal laws regulating the program, selectees must travel to the U.S. before the end of the fiscal year of their selection or they will lose their visas. So, after postponing his flight to the U.S. twice, Atayi decided it was time to go, even if it meant leaving without meeting his daughter.

“I waited forever to see my baby be born, but she never came,” he said. “I moved to the states finally because I postponed my ticket two times, and they already charged me, and then when I left she was born three days later. I just missed it.”

Giving Back to Adopted Nation

Using his master’s degree in geography, Atayi lived and worked in Illinois for two years before deciding to join the Air Force.

“I think it’s really great to be serving in the Air Force and to learn from it,” he said. “I didn’t join because of education -- I already have my education -- and I didn’t want a really good paycheck. I was paid more where I used to work, but I quit. I want to do what I’m doing now. I put on my uniform every day knowing that I am going to put my best foot forward and give 110 percent because there is someone, somewhere counting on me.”

The fact that he only got a handful of vacation days at his previous job and the chaos of joining the military meant Atayi wasn’t able to return to Togo to visit his family before he enlisted. But once he arrived here in April 2016, Atayi started the process that would bring them to the U.S. He didn’t realize it would take more than a year.

One of the most significant roadblocks was that U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services denied his application, claiming Atayi didn’t have sufficient income to support his family. He worked with his leaders and the base career assistance advisor to correct the issue, but it ultimately extended the amount of time the visa process took.

Family Ties

Being apart from his family made it very difficult to bond with his daughter, Aina, he said.

“It was kind of tough, especially with my baby, because I wasn’t there to watch her first steps in life,” Atayi said. “The only time I could see how she looked was when I got some pictures or during [video calls], and I couldn’t even talk to her because she couldn’t talk. We never had that physical contact.”

After traveling for nearly 24 hours, Atayi’s wife and daughter arrived in Wichita. As a way to celebrate, he brought ice cream to share.

“I had really intense feelings to finally see my daughter, grab her and share my ice cream with her,” he said. “It felt like an accomplishment because the whole process was so tough.”

Now they’re finally together, Atayi said he’s realized it’s going to be tough for all of them to adapt to life together, and to life in America.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out now,” he explained. “I’ve been with her for a week, and [my daughter] prefers her mom over me. She used to see me on the screen and that’s all, but now I can see her, I can touch her, I can play with her and I can hang out with her. I know it will take time for her to get used to me and for me to be that good dad she can go to.”

The Future

The family may face challenges, but Atayi said they are finally able to really begin their life together.

“My wife does not speak much English, but she is very excited to bring our family together, find a job and become an American citizen,” he said. “I hope I will be a good dad and husband.”

Airmen and leaders in Atayi’s squadron were there for him during his fight to bring his family here, offering support and help whenever he needed it, and Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Vinetta Paige, superintendent of the 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, accompanied him to the airport when his family arrived.

"I was honored to witness Atayi's reunion with his wife, not to mention his initial meeting with his beautiful daughter,” Paige said. “I know he has enjoyed his time here at McConnell, but now that his family arrived, it will feel more like home.”

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