Ghana-born corpsman returns to Africa

14 Jan 2003 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

It's anything but a homecoming for Ghana-native Petty Officer 3rd Class Nana D. Owusuafriyie, company corpsman for E Company, 2d Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), which is here in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa.

Born Dec. 1, 1978, "Doc O," as he's known by the members of E Co., lived in Kumasi, Ghana until his parents relocated the family to New York in 1991.

When asked to describe the living conditions in Ghana, Owusuafriyie's first response was "strict."

"Africans treat all the elders with respect, so almost anyone who is older than you can ask what you're doing and hit you if they think you're being out of line. They're very disciplined," he said.

Unlike most of the population,  Owusuafriyie did not attend boarding school. His father, a doctor, and mother, a nurse, were financially well off and could afford to send Owusuafriyie to a school near home.

"School is a big thing there. We had to wear uniforms, and we were hit with rulers if we did something wrong," he explained. "I was a troublemaker, so I constantly got hit.

When he was 13, Owusuafriyie's parents told him his family was to move to the "Land of Opportunity."

"A lot of Africans believe Americans are rich and there are plenty of jobs. One American dollar is equal to 1,500 cedi (Ghana's currency), so if someone goes there and gets a job that pays six dollars an hour and sends that money to his family back in Ghana, they can live well for a long time," he went on to say.

Once in America, his family endured hardship.

"When we got to New York, we lived in the projects while my parents took classes and got recertified for their professions," stated Doc O. "It was tough because it wasn't just a few people living together. It was 13 to 14 people. My father had 11 kids, and there were nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles living in a two-room apartment."

His living conditions weren't the only struggles he would bear in America.

"Adjusting to Americans was really hard for me at first. At school, the kids called me names. I didn't leave my house for years it seems," recollected Owusuafriyie, who is a descendant of the Ashanti tribe.

Even though the family was away from Ghana, his family still clung to its roots.

"My mom and dad told us to stay away from stuff like rap music and wouldn't let us get funky haircuts. They wanted us to stick to the norm and be disciplined," he said.

Unfortunately, after only a few years living in the United States, Owusuafriyie's life took a tragic turn. His father, who never smoked a day in his life, passed away after battling lung cancer.

"He actually died right in front of my eyes," he recalled. "My mom was giving him CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), and she kicked me out of the room and told me to go to school. While I was in class, I got the call that my dad had passed away."

The death of his father was a hard blow for Owusuafriyie. He said his mother thought her son needed to consult a psychiatrist to help him deal with his loss.

After high school, Owusuafriyie decided to join the U.S. Navy to become a corpsman.

"I come from a family that has deep medical roots. I guess it's in my blood," he said. "My brother wanted to join the Navy, but he was disqualified from entering after an injury. I decided to follow in his footsteps and finish his dreams to join the Navy."

The soon-to-be "devil doc" said boot camp was a one of the greatest experiences he's ever had.

He said, "Boot camp was where I really got to learn about Americans. I met people from all over the states. The way I was raised was like the military because I needed discipline, so boot camp really wasn't too hard."

According to Cpl. Adam Gray, a machine gunner and team leader with E Co., Owusuafriyie is very dedicated to the Marines he provides care.

"Doc O is truly worried about the welfare of the Marines. He just wants to keep them in the game. He can tell if someone is really hurt or not," said Gray, a Swainsboro, Ga., native.

Gray recounted a time during a field exercise at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., when he injured his knee.

"When I went to see Doc O, he didn't think I was really injured, and he gave me a hard time at first," said Gray. "After he examined me thoroughly, he realized that I really was hurt. The Marines are really fortunate to have doc as a corpsman because he actually does care about them."

Owusuafriyie said, "Before I joined the Navy and started working with Marines, I thought I knew discipline, but they have taught me and showed me so much. Working with them has got to be one of the hardest and most challenging things I've ever done."

In the future, Owusuafriyie hopes to become a Naval officer and anesthesiologist.
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