Immigrant couple find America’s sky has no limit

Oluwatoyin Adeyemo, left, listens to her mentor, Elsa Stuart, at U.S. Army Security Assistance Command headquarters at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. (Photo by Richard Bumgardner, USASAC)
February 18, 2020

When Oluwatoyin and Solomon Adeyemo were growing up in Nigeria, a country in West Africa, they often dreamed of one day visiting America.

Today the Adeyemos are living and working in Huntsville as Army civilians.

It wasn’t an easy road though, leaving their home country and traveling more than 6,000 miles to start new careers and a new life.

With lots of perseverance and a little luck, it took winning the U.S. Diversity Visa lottery twice to finally make the visit a reality.

What followed is a complex and inspiring story of two immigrants, the challenges they had to overcome and the strength and resiliency of the military family.

Oluwatoyin, who was accepted into the Army Pathways Internship program in 2018, works as a logistics management specialist in the CENTCOM directorate of the Security Assistance Command.

Known as Toyin to her friends, she remembers growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, being studious, sporty and always being put into leadership roles in church and school.

“I used to lead a big choir in my dad’s church, I was the president of youth associations and in high school I loved sports, relay, track, long jump and high jump,” she said. “From sixth to 10th grade I was the class captain and in senior high school I loved accounting so I went into the business class.”

She also grew up reading and hearing stories about America and remembers being inspired by President Bill Clinton’s visit.

Her husband, Solomon, who grew up in Odo state in southern Nigeria, dreamed of one day joining the U.S. Army. He is now a contracting specialist, with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“When I was in Nigeria I watched a lot of Army movies and I loved the way I saw them on TV,” he said. “When I was watching those movies I was thinking ‘if I was born in the U.S. this is what I would be doing’ without knowing that one day we would come here.”

Following the Immigration Act of 1990, the State Department established a U.S. Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, and from millions of applicants, roughly 50,000 visas a year are given out.

Knowing the odds were impossible, but looking for new opportunities, Toyin and Solomon started applying for the visa lottery.

“We applied in 1994, we applied again in 1996 and 1997,” Toyin said, who by 1997 had resigned herself to the fact that it was near impossible to be selected.

But Solomon felt differently so he continued to submit his forms to the visa center.

“So I did another one in 1998, that is the one I won,” Solomon said. “I won it, then I lost it and I got it back again … it is a long story.”

Solomon had a small error in his application package which was enough to be disqualified for his visa. But he fixed the record and reapplied.

“I received the package from the U.S. that said congratulations, you have won,” he said. “It was a wonderful day, May 25, 1999. It was a happy day for me.”

Solomon felt uneasy and was worried that this might be a hoax, so he kept it quiet from his family.

“That day I didn’t tell anyone what happened as I wasn’t sure,” he said. “I was trying to keep it to myself because I was asking myself if I was dreaming. I didn’t want to say I was going to America and later on I say I’m sorry, it was a scam. You never know until you verify it.”

Once official he finished his university degree program in accounting and made the move to the U.S. in fall of 2000.

Shortly after arrival he had a conversation with a friend who had joined the Navy. Solomon found out that he could join the Army as a green card holder.

“So I checked the white pages in the phone book and called the recruiter,” he said. “They came to my house with their laptop to test me to make sure I would be able to pass my exams. I passed very well and two weeks later I went to the Military Entrance Processing Station. That’s how I became a U.S. Army Soldier.”

In late 2001, Solomon returned to Nigeria where he and Toyin were married but she had to stay in Nigeria another two years to process her permanent resident visa.

A year after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, Solomon heard of a program called “expedited citizenship” where President Bush had given military members, who weren’t U.S. citizens, a shortened path to citizenship.
“I immediately applied and finally got my citizenship in March 2003,” he said.

It was in 2003 that Toyin finally made it to the U.S. to be with her husband, Cpl. Adeyemo, who by now was preparing for deployment to Iraq with his unit at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

There Toyin, a newly arrived immigrant and military spouse, began a long and complex series of jobs, career changes and military assignments while also trying to complete college courses and overcome typical military family challenges.

“I moved to New York City when he deployed to Iraq in 2004,” she said. “I lived there and worked as a graphics designer while attending school to obtain a certificate in medical office administration.”

When Solomon returned to the states and they moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he attended the Officer Candidate School.
After graduating and being commissioned as a 2nd Lt., their growing family moved to Fort Eustis, Virginia, where Solomon attended the basic transportation officer’s course.

It was here that Toyin started working as a non-appropriated fund employee, a position she kept for several moves, eventually being promoted to supervisor at Fort Bliss, Texas. It was at Fort Bliss that Toyin also earned an Associate’s degree in pharmacy technology.

“I completed that in 2010 and all the time I was taking courses thinking I was going to be a doctor of pharmacy,” she said. “But guess what…as we continued to move from one place to another my decision and plan continued to change because I was trying to make sure everything fit in that new environment.”

In 2011, newly promoted Capt. Adeyemo was assigned as a company commander and took his growing and young family to Mannheim, Germany.

Two years later when the Mannheim and Heidelberg military communities closed, the Adeyemo family returned to Fort Benning, Georgia.

Here Toyin, who always seems to be seeking new opportunities to grow and learn, earned her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. As part of her degree program she interned with a local homeless shelter in Columbus, Georgia.

For 12 years the Adeyemo family would move from assignment to assignment, all along gaining rank, job experiences and growing their family.

In her long journey to her current job at USASAC, Toyin worked as a school teacher, as a non-appropriated fund employee, then supervisor, a graphic designer, became a real estate agent, had a small business, worked in day care, worked with family readiness groups, volunteered with Red Cross, and worked as a pharmacy technician.

The Adeyemos moved in 2016 to Huntsville when Solomon retired and Toyin went back to school, receiving her master’s in business administration in project management, in 2018. She was hired at USASAC about a year before her graduation, being hired through the Army Pathways Internship.

“I told my husband I love my job, I love what they are doing (foreign military sales) and since I graduated, they converted me to a permanent employee,” she said.

When asked what her goals were, Toyin replied “My short term goal is to become a country program manager, and the long term goal is to continue to improve myself and get my Ph.D. if possible.”

Solomon, who himself accomplished his goal of joining the Army and serving his new country, retired from the Army and now works with the Corps. He proudly described how Toyin overcame moving every two years, stopping and starting college classes, and overcoming a series of difficult childbirths, raising three children, all while working and supporting his service to the Army.

“I feel proud of her because she has been through a lot of things, coming from Nigeria with only her high school diploma and a teaching certificate and now having a graduate degree,” he said.

“There is no limiting her ability to achieve whatever she wants to achieve,” he said. “They normally say the sky is the limit. In what she will be able to achieve the sky is not the limit!”