All Things Soldier: Airman, Olympian, Slave

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Guor Maker has without a doubt one of the most triumphant stories of what it means to become an American that I have ever heard. In April, he will be 34 years old, and in his brief life he has been a slave, an Olympic marathon runner, and for one month now, he has been an Airman in the United States Air Force.

Born in 1984, into the Dinka tribe of the Sudan, he experienced losing 8 of his siblings and being a slave twice. Once he was captured by Sudanese soldiers, and once he was held captive by a herdsman. He escaped slavery, and then escaped a refugee camp, got to Egypt, and was able to come to the United States at the age of 16. He taught himself English by watching cartoons, went to high school in New Hampshire, and ran track at Iowa State University, achieving All-American status. He graduated from Iowa State with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

Guor continued to make news as an Olympic athlete. In the 2012 Summer Games, he was allowed to compete as an independent athlete because South Sudan had not yet been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. He had permanent resident status and had started the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen, and wanted to run in honor of his war-torn former country. Because of the two million people who had been killed by the North, he felt it would have been a betrayal of the memory of those who had been slaughtered to run for the North. In the 2016 Olympics, he ran with two fellow team mates representing South Sudan for the first time. Regarding his experience in the 2016 games, he said, “I couldn’t have accomplished any of it without all the support I received from my family and the opportunity the United States gave me. It’s the highlight of my athletic career so far and a moment I’ll treasure forever.”

So far this is enough of a story to make me cheer, but it gets better. On February 1, Guor started his basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, and here is what he said: “All of the things I’ve accomplished have derived from the opportunities the U.S. has afforded me. When I first came to America, I didn’t have hardly anything, but with the support and opportunity this country has given me, I’ve been able to completely change my life.”

Now that’s what I’m talking about! People whose heart and life exemplify what the whole purpose of America is: going after life, liberty and happiness, and then giving back, or paying it forward, however you see it.

Guor Maker is a humble man, so much so that when he began his training last month, no one in his unit knew who he was. As his story came out, numbers of people on the base were inspired to the point that they began to tell his story for him, and the media got involved. He is on the medical track for his training, and one of the things he loves to do is help trainees who are struggling. He also is still heading toward his dreams. The next one is to be a military world-class athlete and compete once again in the Olympics, and I have no doubt he’ll do it. “Joining the greatest Air Force in the world has been an absolute miracle,” said Maker. “I can’t wait to see what this next chapter holds for me.”

All I can say is, even if it’s belated, “Welcome to America, Guor. You do us all proud.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner