By Tech. Sgt. Eric Summers Jr., 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 22, 2021
ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait -- A young immigrant to the United States used his passion of sports to overcome challenges in life, different cultures and language barriers to become an officer here with the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group.
Capt. Aristide Badje, assigned to the 386th EMDG Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight, used his childhood love of soccer to build a life and career spanning from youth in Chad to an officer in the U.S. Air Force here.
“I am from Chad in Central Africa. It's also in the desert and where I come from the only sport we knew was soccer,” Badje said. “The language their people spoke Arabic and French. So, parents would choose to send their kids to either school. I was sent to a French school so, I learned how to speak French before I came [to America].”
Around the time he was entering high school Badje’s mother took him and his siblings and immigrated them to the United States. Here, he would begin his journey of overcoming cultural difference and further cultivate his participation in sports.
“The culture in Chad is a little bit different, so coming here was a little bit of culture shock,” Badje said. “Playing sports, it's not something that is associated with school. You just go to school and then you find time after school to play sports. Finding sports associated with school or playing a team sport, to me, was just very exciting. I could go to school and have fun at the same time, especially when I'm playing soccer.
“The language, of course, was a culture shock. I had to learn certain things that you say may mean one thing in my culture but not the same thing here. I was lucky that I had a French teacher in the school who always coached me or translated certain things to me. This helped me to learn about the culture and adapt to the culture as well.”
Badje said he also used sports to help him overcome the barriers in culture.
“Coming here when I was in high school and never spoken English before, sports were my way of connecting with other people,” Badje said. “I already knew how to play soccer, so soccer is just a natural thing, a fun thing for me to do.”
Though soccer was the first game he played for his high school team, another sport would make him a state champion.
“I was introduced to wrestling because the coach would go in and watch kids who were playing, basically recruiting mostly team players and stuff like that,” he said. “I ended up just giving it a try because soccer was in a fall season and wrestling was in a spring season. I wanted to keep busy, so I decided to join wrestling.
“Usually, most people who end up winning state title are people who started wrestling probably around five years old. Here I am in high school, ninth grade, first time wrestling and had no idea. The only difference is I was pretty strong, but even then, I was just basically going through the motions.”
Badje said that initially when he was wrestling, he was wasn’t there mentally or trying to learn. It was his mother’s words telling to embrace the opportunity that he that made everything click.
“I realized that it's an opportunity for me to do something better,” he explained. “I'm there to help the team win. Seeing the rankings at the state level, the projections of who has a chance to win and all this stuff, it got me excited to want to put in a lot more work. Even though wrestling is like an individual sport, it's still a team sport because they tally all the points and then they're still graded as a team. So it's a different concept that each individual has to put in work in order to contribute to the whole team.”
Upon finishing high school and earning the state wrestling champion title, at the collegiate level Badje returned to the game that taught him to love sports.
“Coming from a single parent household, I knew there was no money to pay for college,” he said. “So, I was banking on playing college level sports to pay for my education. I got a scholarship to play soccer instead of wrestling, so I decided to hung up the wrestling career and went for my education at that point. So, I did play Division One Soccer at Howard University.”
Though he may have gone back to soccer the lessons of team work he learned from wrestling would transition with him.
“One of the things that I learned was the same team concept applied, even with soccer when I'm out there,” he said. “If I am a team member, if something is not going right or somebody missed the ball, I have to be there to clean up just like they would do it for me”
It was in college while working on a degree in engineering that he met his future wife who would lead him down the path of becoming an officer in the Air Force.
“My thought process about the military was if you did not go to the academy or do ROTC, you could not join the military,” he said. “I was aware of people joining from high school, but back then it wasn't on my mind. After meeting my wife and seeing both her parents were military, retired and talking about their experiences in the military and how grateful they are of the military, not just from the educational side, but giving them opportunities.”
“They kept mentioning it. And my interest started growing about wanting to learn more about the military. One day I just asked that question - Do they hire engineers?”
Badje said that his father-in-law then explained to him that there were career fields for engineers such as civil and chemical engineers.
Though interested in joining the military, he still could not join as an officer because he was a permanent resident in the United States.
“After I graduated college, I was still not a U.S. citizen,” Badje said. “To become an officer, you have to be a U.S. citizen. That's still one of the requirements. So, I decided I was going to become a teacher, because that's the only one job that I could get without being a U.S. citizen.
“I started teaching chemistry, in a public charter school in Washington, D.C. While I was there, I ended up getting my U.S. citizenship. As soon as I got my U.S. citizenship, I was like, maybe this is the moment for me to give it a try because I hear about this amazing opportunity in the military and I decided to apply and here I am today.”
Badje said he carries a lot of the lessons he learned throughout his journey and applies them to his team here.
“Playing in a team sport has helped me learn that as an individual, it's hard for you to influence, but as a team, it's a lot easier. So, everything I do, I try to put it in perspective of being a team member, not about me or role that I play” he said. “It’s about making the team happen or helping make the right decision for the team. Like wrestling, even though it's just me against the other guy, I remember in the back of my mind that if I don't win, then it's going to affect the team. So, I put in as much energy as I can. When I win, that point contributed to the team. So it's the same concept.”
Badje and the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight’s mission is to conduct risk assessments for. base personnel. They keep Airmen healthy by minimizing illness and injury, providing respirator fit tests and conducting industrial hygiene, heat stress prevention and noise surveys. They also serve as initial responders in the event of an incident involving biological, chemical, or radiological situations.
“I think the hardest thing is managing people, because work for my job is black and white. If it's radiation, I know exactly what to do,” he said. “If it's about making sure water is potable, I know exactly what I can do. This is what the regulation wants me to do, and that's the reason for what I'm doing.”
“But managing people is not as easy. I love management and I love working with people. Sometimes I find myself using sports concepts I learned that if you are part of a team, these are the things that we've got to do and these are the roles we play. I use this in the workplace to encourage somebody to give their best so we can get the mission done.”