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Little Rock Airman returns to Kenyan roots

An Airman poses for a photo

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Michael Matthews, crew chief, 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, smiles as he returns to Kenya for this first time in 20 years as part of the aircrew for a C-130J Super Hercules that landed at Camp Simba, Oct. 25, 2021. Matthews was born in Kenya and fled to the U.S., with the help of the U.S. Embassy, from an abusive father at the age of 5. As an adult, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was attached to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa where he has the opportunity to return to Kenya, with a mission to partner with Kenyans to bring stability and prosperity to his Homeland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew Kobialka)

An Airman takes in the view

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Michael Matthews, crew chief, 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, takes in the views as he returns to Kenya for this first time in 20 years as part of the aircrew for a C-130J Super Hercules that landed at Camp Simba, Oct. 25, 2021. Matthews was born in Kenya and fled to the U.S., with the help of the U.S. Embassy, from an abusive father at the age of 5. As an adult, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was attached to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa where he has the opportunity to return to Kenya, with a mission to partner with Kenyans to bring stability and prosperity to his Homeland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew Kobialka)

An Airman takes in the view

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Michael Matthews, crew chief, 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, takes in the views as he returns to Kenya for this first time in 20 years as part of the aircrew for a C-130J Super Hercules that landed at Camp Simba, Oct. 25, 2021. Matthews was born in Kenya and fled to the U.S., with the help of the U.S. Embassy, from an abusive father at the age of 5. As an adult, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was attached to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa where he has the opportunity to return to Kenya, with a mission to partner with Kenyans to bring stability and prosperity to his Homeland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew Kobialka)

A C-130J prepares to land

A U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules, 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, lands at Camp Simba, Oct. 25, 2021. On the flight was Airman 1st Class Michael Matthews, 75th EAS, who was born in Kenya and fled to the U.S., with the help of the U.S. Embassy, from an abusive father at the age of 5. As an adult, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was attached to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa where he has the opportunity to return to Kenya, with a mission to partner with Kenyans to bring stability and prosperity to his Homeland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew Kobialka)

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti -- The saying; ‘There’s no place like home’ doesn’t mean the same to everyone.

Airman 1st Class Michael Matthews was born in Kenya, but had to flee at the age of five with his nine other siblings. Twenty years later, he returned as a C-130J Super Hercules crew chief in the U.S. Air Force.

“My dad was abusive; that’s why we had to flee,” explained Matthews. “My memories are vague, but my family would often retell the stories of our experience, our struggle and our blessings.”

Matthews’ mother felt the brunt of the abuse.

“It was life or death,” Matthew said. “It became more and more dangerous to the point where she had no choice but to leave.”

She made the impossible decision to leave her kids and flee to the U.S. to get away from her abuser. She had planned to go back and bring her kids to the U.S. but it took five years of trying to make it happen.

“We never would’ve escaped that situation without the help of the U.S. Embassy,” Matthews said. “They played a big role in getting us back to our mom. They saved us.”

Now, serving in the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, Matthews has deployed to Djibouti, Africa, with the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, where he finally had the opportunity to return to Kenya.

Matthews’ mission includes bringing supplies, people, and other resources to Kenya.

“I never imagined I’d return like this, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to reconnect with my roots,” Matthews said.

The U.S. works closely with Kenya and East African partners to bring security and stability to the region.

Those partnerships are centered on a mutual desire to protect the people.

Matthews’ story is one example of how these partnerships bring new possibilities and brighter futures for people in need.

So when the time came and that C-130J landed in Kenya, Matthews took his first step onto Kenya soil in 20 years. He paused, took a deep breath and looked out toward the familiar landscape.

“The green, the mountains… it’s exactly how I remember it,” Matthews said. “I’m blessed.”

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