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Learning in America

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, an avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, moves an electronic countermeasures pod. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, an avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, moves an electronic countermeasures pod. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, an avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, calibrates automated support equipment. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, an avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, calibrates automated support equipment. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, resets a card on an electronic countermeasures pod. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, resets a card on an electronic countermeasures pod. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, an avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, disassembles an electronic countermeasures pod. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko, an avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, disassembles an electronic countermeasures pod. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ed Bard)

BALTIMORE -- Staff Sgt. Ousseynou S. Sonko came to the United States for an education. Through mentoring, he has progressed through both his military and educational careers.

Sonko, an avionics sensors and electronic warfare systems mechanic in the 175th Maintenance Squadron, was born in Dakar, Senegal in Africa.

"When I came to the U.S., I wanted to go to college," said Sonko. In 1997 he won a lottery for a visa to come to the United States, while he was in France studying medicine.

"I come from a family of eight children. We all left Senegal to study. I went to France for medical school before coming to the U.S," he said. His twin brother was living here and he wanted to join him. His brother is in the Air Force reserves, and his siblings are in France.

Sonko registered at Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J. "When I graduated in 2002 with an Associates in Biology, I joined the active duty Army as a combat medic," said Sonko.

He deployed with the Army in 2003 for a year tour in Iraq. In 2004 he received his U.S. citizenship. He deployed again to Iraq in 2005 for ten months. When he left the Army in 2006, he registered at the University of Maryland College Park to pursue a bachelor's degree in Economics.

In March of 2007 he enlisted in the Maryland Air National Guard.

In 2008 he contacted the office of Maryland Congressional Representative Steny Hoyer about National Guardsmen not getting in-state tuition if they did not live in the state. In 2009, he testified at the
Maryland Senate. "They changed the law so that National Guard members get in-state tuition no matter where they live," said Sonko.

"That action of the Senate motivated me to go to Georgetown University to pursue a Master in Public Policy and a Masters of Science in Foreign Service," he said. In 2010 he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Economics.

He was recognized in 2012 as the Maryland Air National Guard Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year during the annual Airman Recognition Ceremony.

His future plans in the ANG are to become an officer. "Intelligence would be my first choice and public affairs would be my second choice," said Sonko.

"For the time I'm here in the Guard, my personal goal is to promote mentorship. All the achievement that I had were due to me having good mentors. Especially here in the guard we have people from different walks of life. If we assist one another we will be able to achieve great things."

Sonko said, "Mentorship does not come just form the top down. Airmen should find people to help them achieve their goals and help their peers achieve their goals."

"I organized a speaker event at Georgetown University. The theme of the event was women leadership in the military," he said. A mentor of his, Chief Master Sgt. Glen Hart, Maryland State Command Chief, helped introduce him to three women military leaders: Brig. Gen. Allyson Solomon and Chief Master Sgt. Tonya Schreiber from the Maryland Air National Guard and Brig. Gen. Annette Deener from the Maryland Army National Guard. They spoke to graduate students in the Master of Science in Foreign Service. "That is one example where I reached out to leadership in my educational journey."

"A lot of time what prevents people from achieving their goals is a fear of failure. Even through failure you can learn a lot," he said.