Kenyan Immigrant named 8th Marine Corp District Marine of the Year


NAVAL AIR STATION FORT WORTH JOINT RESERVE BASE, Fort Worth, Texas  — On Sept. 11, 2001, Teresia Kamau, a 17-year-old African immigrant who considered America her home, crowded around a television at Yukon High School in Oklahoma with her classmates to watch the Twin Towers in New York City crumble after terrorists intentionally flew commercial jetliners into the buildings.

“We were all sitting there watching the buildings come down on television,” she said. “We were all thinking, ‘Oh my God, they can come here and get our families, (too).”

Sgt. Kamau, who originally planned on pursuing a medical career after high school, made the decision to step on the yellow footprints to become a United States Marine. She knew she had to do her part to protect her family.

Before joining the Marine Corps, Kamau lived the early years of her life in Nairobi, Kenya, where she was born. She was raised on a farm with two sisters and a younger brother and went to a private school.

As the youngest daughter, Kamau performed chores after school such as cooking for the family, cleaning the house, and occasionally milking the cows with her father’s permission.

When Kamau was ten years old, her parents made the decision to leave their African home and emigrate to the United States.

“My mother got assaulted by some thugs,” Kamau said. My father wanted to get her out of the country and since my uncles were already in Oklahoma, we decided to settle (there),” Kamau said.

Kamau settled in Yukon, Okla., where she attended Yukon High School. She said she was quiet, but had many friends.

She didn’t go out and party, but instead participated many extra-curricular activities like singing in choir, and sprinting for the school track team.

During her later years of high school, Kamau decided to work two part-time jobs – at a sandwich shop after school, and a grocery store on the weekends – to make money for extra clothes and shoes.

When her friends and family heard of her plans to enlist, they were surprised that such a feminine girl would want to join the military.

“Nobody thought I could do it because, obviously, I’m a girly-girl.” Kamau joked. “(I joined) to prove to everyone I could actually make it as a Marine – to prove everybody wrong, because I like doing that.”

During the year Kamau was a “poolee,” an applicant waiting to ship to boot camp, she said she was torn between the satisfaction of becoming a Marine and the fear of a new life.

“I went through the rollercoaster of thinking, ‘Yay, I did it!’ and, ‘No I don’t want to go!’” Kamau said. “I remember a week before (I left), my mother called the dean of admissions of one of the colleges because she didn’t think I was going to go, and there were times where I thought, ‘No, I don’t think I can do this,’ but when it came time to do it, I was ready.”

Kamau shipped to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Aug. 24, 2004, and attended the Personnel Administration School in Camp Lejeune, N.C., to become an administrative specialist. She then transferred to Marine Air Group 39, Camp Pendleton, Calif., where she deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was later sent to the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.

While there, Kamau received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Soon after receiving those orders, she found out she was pregnant.

“The same day I found out – when medical finally told me – my major came in and told me, ‘You got your orders, you got your wish!’ because I had been begging and begging to deploy, but I was a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” she said.

Kamau said she sometimes compares the difficulty of being a single mother to being in boot camp.

“(In boot camp), you’re given a task to do – like taking care of the gear locker and having to do the laundry for the whole platoon and in a stressful situation,” Kamau said. “My situation is similar because I have this beautiful little thing and she’s all mine, and I have to take care of her, but I can’t let my emotions get the best of me. I can’t. So, I set aside my emotions and do what’s most important.”

Kamau says she wouldn’t be able to handle her stress so well without the support of her friends and the Marines in her charge.

“It’s amazing to have great friends. I truly do believe they are some of the best people ever. (My friends) help whether it’s just spending time with the girls, or having a (night) to alleviate the stress,” she said. “My Marines know when work goes well, I’m a happy girl and not stressed with the daily tasks.  They make it to where I can still be able to do what I need to do for myself.”

Kamau currently holds four billets at the 8th Marine Corps District: noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the inbound section; the assistant Substance Abuse Control Officer; the training chief; and the Organizational Defense Travel System Administrator.

The bulk of her time is spent working on Marines’ travel claims with the Defense Travel System.

“My work is so repetitive,” Kamau said. “It’s very much a continuous thing, especially with DTS. I think I live and breathe DTS. I have my computer at home programmed to do all the work I can do from here. So even when I’m out of the office I’m still a phone call away and can access whatever anyone needs. Training and DTS are the ‘meat and potatoes’ of my (day).”

Kamau said she finishes the work that needs to be done regardless of how big her workload is. She is always busy at work, but is rarely too busy to take on a new challenge or help her fellow Marines.

“Kamau over-stresses herself a lot,” said Sgt. Gilma A. Losano, a personnel clerk at 8th MCD. “She’s always typing something up on the computer or on the phone. When she’s working on something, and someone gives her another task, she stops what she’s doing to complete it. She keeps doing that until she overworks herself. When someone needs help, she’ll stop what she’s doing to help that person. She listens and helps in any way she can. She always takes care of other Marines.”

Kamau’s friends say that she is a motherly person who puts others before herself.

“She’s sweet and caring,” said Taylar Andrews, a Marine spouse and friend to Kamau. “She thinks about other people’s feelings and she goes out of her way for people all the time to make sure that they’re happy. Her best quality – she has so many – is probably how caring and loving she is.”

She has been recognized many times for her positive attitude in and out of work and for her hard work in the unit. She is noticed by Marines not only in her section, but throughout the district headquarters.

“Sgt. Kamau is a Marine who cares about the product she puts forth,” said Master Sgt. David Robinson, the 8th MCD adjutant chief. “She stays late almost every day because failure is not an option for her.”

Since checking into the unit July 2010, she was the district’s Marine of the Quarter for Fiscal Year 2011 and has ultimately been named the Marine of the Year for Fiscal Year 2011 for her “exceptional initiative, positive attitude and diligent work ethic.” She was awarded a Certificate of Commendation and two Navy Achievement Medals for her achievements.

Not only do the Marines around her get to see exceptional professionalism daily, even Kamau’s daughter, Olivia, has begun to emulate her mother’s leadership and independence.

“When she comes home, she’ll take off her shoes and put them on the shoe rack,” Kamau said with a big grin. “She’ll go in the pantry, get her fruit snacks or her little goldfish snacks, and get her chocolate milk from the fridge. Then, she’ll go to her room, turn on the TV, and watch TV. I mean, what two-year-old does that?”

Kamau says being a single mother has ruled out things that she wanted to do like becoming a Marine Security Guard, but she still sees Olivia as a blessing.

“I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t do MSG duty, but everything happens for a reason,” Kamau said. “So, (I) take it and go with it because there’s a reason. All these changes have happened but one drastic change has brought me the most happiness and it’s (my daughter).”

Kamau said the way she was raised in Africa has helped her to be strong and accomplish all she has today, whether it’s excelling as a Marine or as a mother.

“My upbringing has given me the discipline and the strength to be able to withstand just about anything,” Kamau said. “My parents never allowed me to fail at anything.  They also made sure to instill in me that I can do anything that I put my mind to.”

She said growing up in Kenya and being a mother brought out her strengths the most in her life and has taught her to take nothing for granted.

“It’s truly unbelievable,” Kamau said. “I never knew exactly how strong I truly was until I had my daughter.”

Kamau’s newfound confidence has inspired her to pursue bigger challenges and new goals in her life.

Kamau is currently pursuing a degree in nursing and applying for the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Educational Program, to become a Marine Officer and plans to retire from the Marine Corps after 20 years of service.



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