From the pulpit to the kitchen

The Brooklyn Paper
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There are many reasons why someone chooses to join the army, either to take advantage of the educational opportunities, job security, or fulfill patriotic duty. There are even those that come from another country and enlist.

Pfc. Rudolph Foliwe was born and raised in Cameroon, a small country in west-central Africa, known for its native music and its successful national soccer team. English and French are the official languages of Cameroon, and compared to other African countries, its economy is stable.

Foliwe, who pursued an education in international affairs before attending three years of bible school and becoming a pastor in Cameroon, decided at the age of 33 to travel to the United States.

“Africans love to travel,” he said in his thick accent with a lively smile on his face, “and I wanted to experience a better way of life. People in the United States are blessed.”

He arrived in Boston on July 7, 2007, and shipped off to basic training Oct. 18, 2007.

“I have great admiration for the U.S. Army,” he said. “A friend of mine used to always tell me about the Army and told me that if I ever get to the United States, I should join.”

Now, less than one year later, Foliwe prepares and serves food to his fellow Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division’s Company D, 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, at an abandoned potato chip factory in New Baghdad used by the company as its combat outpost.

“I feel that the best way to begin my life as an immigrant is to fight for the country,” Foliwe said. “This way, I can truly understand the benefits from the blessings of the country. It’s a great foundation to set up my life and a positive image for my future children.”

Although Foliwe served many years as a pastor in Cameroon, the option to serve as a chaplain in the Army was not available because his education didn’t translate into a degree in the United States; a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited school is necessary to become a chaplain. He made the decision to become a cook, choosing to physically feed others in place of “feeding” them spiritually. Because of his religious beliefs, he said, he wanted to serve a vital role in the military, but in a job more focused on serving others than on combat.

Foliwe not only was new to the Army, but also had little experience cooking.

“The only thing I had ever cooked before was rice and eggs,” he said.

By the time he arrived to his unit in Baghdad in late June, he had developed the minimum skills taught to Army cooks in advanced individual training.

“He was fresh out of AIT and had no experience in cooking out in the field. Everything was new to him,” said Army Spc. Marcus Reichelderfer, a native of Lima, Ohio, who also serves as a cook with the unit. “In a month and a half, he’s improved from zero to 100. He’s completely competent to run a shift by himself.”

Foliwe said he believes his job in the Army is important and that he receives satisfaction knowing that what he does contributes to the overall mission and directly to individual soldiers.

“There is a strong relationship between food and motivation,” he said. “When [soldiers] eat well, they are happy and motivated to do their job.”

Although he hasn’t served much time in the Army, Foliwe said, he has faced many obstacles, with the language barrier being the most difficult to overcome. Although he speaks fluent English, his accent is thick and sometimes hard to understand, but he said he’s not discouraged. Instead, he strives to learn about the American culture from other soldiers and to teach them about his native culture.

“People are not stupid because they have different accents or speak different languages,” he said. “I think that the soldiers here are realizing this and becoming more accepting of people and their different cultures. While we’re deployed, we’re all going through this together. All we have is each other, and we’re all the same.”

Foliwe said he will apply for U.S. citizenship at the end of September.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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