By Army Staff Sgt. Wayne Woolley
444th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
JERSEY CITY, N.J., April 8, 2015 – Army Pfc. Nathaniel Okyere-Bour learned early in life that following a dream requires sacrifice.
When the New Jersey National Guard soldier was 3, his mother, Elizabeth, sent him to Ghana to live with her family while she followed her dream of becoming a nurse. She brought him back to New Jersey after she’d completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees and landed a job as an intensive care nurse at a Manhattan hospital.
The example, he said, led Okyere-Bour to set lofty goals as he grew up in a small Jersey City apartment. He achieved the first by gaining admittance to Jersey City’s McNair Academic High School. As graduation from the magnet school approached, the target shifted to top colleges, including Duke University and the University of Chicago. He got in. But the money wasn’t there.
A New Goal
Okyere-Bour enlisted in the New Jersey Army National Guard in 2013 with the aim of using a tuition waiver to attend Rutgers University. But something happened at basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Okyere-Bour got a new goal.
“The battalion commander spoke to us. He talked about how he went to West Point and what it meant to him,” Okyere-Bour recalled. “I thought, ‘That’s what I want.’’”
On June 29, Okyere-Bour will join the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2019. He will be among 25 Army National Guard soldiers accepted directly to West Point this year. Eleven others will attend West Point’s preparatory academy.
In the end, Okyere-Bour’s New Jersey National Guard leaders helped pave the road from Fort Jackson to West Point.
When Okyere-Bour joined Company F of the 250th Brigade Support Battalion as a wheeled vehicle mechanic two years ago, the unit’s leaders say he caught their attention with stellar performance -- and his insistence that he had what it took to get into West Point.
They ultimately agreed. All of the commissioned and noncommissioned officers in Okyere-Bour’s chain of command wrote letters of recommendation.
Support From Fellow Soldiers
“How could we not? He’s one of those soldiers who does everything right the first time and does it when you ask and never, ever asks ‘Why?,’” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Mahon, Okyere-Bour’s platoon sergeant. “We knew it would be a hell of an achievement if he did it and we were pulling for him. Who knows? He may be a general someday.”
Army Sgt. James Diana, Okyere Bour’s squad leader, said the unit made accommodations to allow Okyere-Bour to make up drill time that he missed during the arduous application process.
“We knew that if he got in, it would reflect well on all of us, our unit and the Guard,” Diana said. “West Point isn’t going to be easy. But I know he can do it.”
It turned out that the person who taught Okyere-Bour to dream big, his mother, at first didn’t realize the magnitude of her son’s achievement.
“I grew up in Ghana,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t know anything about West Point.”
But it became clear when she told a co-worker at Mount Sinai Hospital about the acceptance letter.
“He was like, ‘What?’ The next thing I knew, there was a crowd of intensive care nurses jumping up and down,” she said. “Then I understood what my son had done. It was a very big deal.”
Okyere-Bour says he hasn’t decided what he’ll study at West Point. He’s not sure what branch he’ll request either, although he said the officers in the field artillery unit his company supports have assured him there’s only one branch to pick, and its acronym is FA.
In the meantime, Okyere-Bour will finish out his first year at Rutgers. Although the credits will not transfer to West Point, he said the classes will prepare him for the military academy’s academic rigors.
“I’m just excited to get there and start,” Okyere-Bour said. “And I know that if it took that much work just to get in, what’s coming isn’t going to be easy.”
Wants to Become a Leader
Okyere said he’s ready.
“I realized I love the Army when I was at basic training,” Okyere-Bour said. “I want to do everything I can for the Army and I think the best thing I can do is become a leader. I believe I can make it.”
He’ll have a lot of soldiers in New Jersey pulling for him.
When Mahon, the platoon sergeant, announced at a recent drill that Okyere-Bour had made it into West Point, the formation applauded for more than a minute.
“Private Okyere worked very hard to achieve something most people just can’t do,” Mahon told them. “We should be proud of him -- and remind ourselves that only through hard work do we achieve what we want.”