When Nontobeko Farrell left South Africa for an au-pairing job in the US at the end of September 2010, little did she know she would be wearing a US army uniform 10 years later.
The 29-year-old spoke to TimesLIVE about the journey that led her to wearing a pair of army boots.
“I came here on a programme which is called au-pairing in America. I didn’t plan to come here. I had planned to go to the University of Pretoria but then I just switched,” said Nontobeko.
Bright-eyed and eager, the 19-year-old boarded a plane all alone to the US where she hoped to start a new life for herself.
“I lived with an amazing host family. The programme I was on was initially for a year and [it gave me an option] to extend for a second year,” Nontobeko said.
At the end of her second year of au pairing, the host family she had lived with decided to sponsor her stay in the US and pay for her studies. She enrolled for a year-long course.
“So I was then on a student visa. I did at some point think of joining the US military while I was living with my host family but I thought it was a long shot. I then met my husband,” she said.
As fate would have it, her husband was an American, serving in the military.
A short engagement later, Nontobeko and her husband tied the knot and she became an army wife.
“I got more exposure to the US military,” said Nontobeko, who said this fuelled her desire to take up what she felt was an honourable service.
“I just loved it. I loved their incentive. I loved what they were offering. We all know the US military is the best military force in the world,” said Nontobeko.
“I loved how the army was operating. It was a long shot but I thought I could really build a career through this.”
When her daughter turned 18 months old, Nontobeko took the tough decision of sending the child to SA to live with her family while she underwent six months of intensive military training.
“Officially in December of 2018, I swore into the US military. I then left for training,” she said.
After training, she was officially awarded what she had worked towards — a US army uniform. She is an enlisted private.
Now, she is studying towards becoming a commissioned officer, a civil affairs officer.
“I am studying political science and government. I would be a liaison between the army and the residents of whatever country the US sends me to,” she added.
Nontobeko, who has settled for a life in the US, said while she loved her home country, she never imagined serving in the SA National Defence Force.
She said she had never seen the military in SA held in the same high regard as its US counterpart.
“I am South African and it hurts me to say that [the SA military] has not been portrayed the same way in SA. It’s not enticing. It’s not portrayed as enticing. I don’t think I would have joined the SA military force [had I remained in SA].
“In America it is a high honour. When people see you in your uniform, or when you take out your card at the airport, people will say ‘thank you for your service’,” she added.
Nontobeko attributes all she has achieved in America to God.
“My experience has been great! God has been great. God has led my steps here. My family was shocked by me coming to the US by myself because I had never spoken of it. But I was not alone, God was with me,” she added.
Recently, the US has been at loggerheads with Iran.
Earlier this month, Iran attacked US and coalition forces based in Iraq.
With her fresh military training, Nontobeko said she had held no fears of being deployed.
“We can’t speak much about the US and Iran. What I can say is I am not in fear and of course we pray,” she said.
“We are trained for this. The military force as a whole, the army, air force, marines, we are trained and equipped for this,” she said.
“The US has never lost a war. We have lost many service members throughout the years but the US military is the best in the world and we are proud of that. Even though we know that the US military is trained and equipped, we don’t want [a war]. We thank God there’s been a step back concerning the war talks between the US and Iran,” she said.
Being a woman of staunch faith, she added that serving in war was part of her journey with God.
“I don’t feel conflicted about needing to defend the US. [My husband and I are] both in a position where we could be told to pack our uniform and be deployed but I am not conflicted. In the Bible days, David had an army … I am not conflicted at all. When it needs to happen though, we will be ready to step up and do it,” she said.
By- Naledi Shange