By Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 09, 2017
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
When you were a kid, who did you aspire to be like? What did you admire about that individual?
For one Cameroon native, a bloodline of military service to his nation inspired him from a young age.
“Growing up I looked up to my grandfather. I admired his professionalism, the way he wore the uniform with pride and his sense of sacrifice for the country,” said Claude Betene A Dooko. “That’s what I admire; he shaped my mind.”
From an early age, Betene’s parents held their five children to high academic standards and discipline with a 7 p.m. curfew.
“My parents were very strict on school and had a lot of discipline,” Betene said. “A ‘B’ was not enough for my dad, he needed A’s on everything.”
Upon graduation from high school, Betene’s hard work and perseverance earned him a scholarship to study veterinary medicine in Senegal. During that time, he learned of an opportunity to make his dream a reality.
In 2005, when Betene was in his sixth and final year of earning his veterinarian degree, the Cameroon Military Academy held a recruiting exam. The exam consisted of four levels: physical, written, oral and medical. Betene was competing for a single veterinarian opening. Despite passing every section of the exam, Betene was not selected for the position or the Cameroon army.
“I still remember how angry, sad, mad and frustrated I was when the results were made public,” Betene said. “To me, it was over. I went back to Senegal and crossed off a career in the military from my list of dreams.”
After six years of studying, Betene graduated veterinarian school in 2006. He then worked as a missionary with a non-profit organization for three years. In his first year as a missionary, Betene met Kate, now his wife, who had come to Senegal for a mission trip from Wisconsin.
“We dated for three years, and in 2010, we got married in Senegal, then moved to Minnesota,” Betene said.
When Betene came to the United States, most of his credits would not translate, so he decided to go back to school to learn something new.
At the University of Minnesota, Betene earned his second master’s degree, achieving a master’s in public health.
While at the university, Betene attended a career fair where he met two military recruiters.
“There was an Army and Navy recruiter there who looked at my resume. They both said ‘you’d be a perfect fit for the Air Force; they offer a public health officer position’,” Betene said. “Looking at the criteria for the job, I thought ‘I’m eligible; this is not possible’.”
After contacting the Air Force recruiter, Betene discovered he was unable to begin the process of joining the Air Force due to his citizenship status.
“At the time I was not a United States citizen,” Betene said. “However, the recruiter said that I was more than qualified and to reach back to her when I become a citizen.”
For the next year, Betene worked toward receiving his citizenship, and in March of 2013, he became a citizen of the United States.
“We started the process of joining the Air Force immediately, and then on March 26, 2015, I commissioned as a first lieutenant,” Betene said.
Betene’s childhood dream became a reality. He joined his family’s heritage of service as his great grandfather, grandfather and brother had done before him with the Cameroon army.
“I always wanted to serve; it was a childhood dream,” Betene said. “I come from a line of warriors and service; it’s in my blood.”
Now a captain, and a public health flight commander with the 1st Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Betene reflects on his missed opportunity in Senegal.
“Being turned down following that exam hurt me so much,” Betene said. “For me to be able to wear this uniform today and be assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing, I can’t put into words how honored, humbled and proud I feel to be able to serve America.”
Betene’s appreciation of where he is today is demonstrated by the way he carries himself.
“I would say that it has been a whirlwind, but it has been fun to see how he’s really found his niche,” said Kate Betene, Claude’s wife. “You can tell he holds his head higher, and he’s happy to be where we’re at.”
Betene’s unique background has allowed him to travel frequently in the Air Force. He credits his wife as his source of motivation.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, and out of all the people I can thank, my wife is my hero,” Betene said. “None of what I do is possible if my wife didn’t sacrifice for me and if she wasn’t there encouraging and supporting me.”