Capt. Amy West, an Air Force reservist, has found that even in the most remote corner of the world, the skills she acquired in the service come in handy.
West, an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office, lives in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where she works for the U.S. Embassy as a community liaison office coordinator.
The skills and knowledge she gained as an Airman and public affairs officer helps her foster the relationship between the military and the State Department, and also aid her in adapting to her new home.
“Throughout my life I’ve always wanted to visit Africa, but never thought I would actually live on the continent,” said West, who moved to Ethiopia when her husband was posted there for his job.
Wanting to immerse herself in the community, West applied for and was selected to work in the embassy’s community liaison office.
Her job as a CLO coordinator is informally referred to as being the “heart” of the embassy because the office handles a variety of tasks including welcoming and orientation, organizing morale events, participating in management meetings, organizing domestic and international trips, producing the mission’s newsletter, as well as providing input on how to make life better for the embassy community.
Embassies in Africa are typically small and rather close-knit communities, West said. New employees and spouses arriving in a foreign country look for information regarding their posting, and new employees may not be accustomed to life away from the comforts of the United States and their families. As part of her job, West assists and provides information to help them adapt to their new environment.
Being raised in a military family, serving in the active-duty Air Force and deploying to Iraq as a reservist are experiences that helped her acquire the tools needed to help others transition into the country, she said.
“Most people are taken aback when they arrive since they’re coming into a third-world country,” said West, a native of Jacksonville, N.C. “It’s rewarding to be able to help people as they go through that transition period and ease some of their concerns and fears about living abroad.”
West said she enjoys taking care of others.
“The best part of being in Ethiopia is my job because I’m able to work with locals and help those new to the country, as well as give back to the community,” she said.
One way she does this is by facilitating recycling and donation programs.
“The U.S. Embassy community donates old magazines, which my office delivers to a nongovernmental organization that allows women to turn the magazine pages into beads for jewelry that they sell,” she said. “It’s a small way to make a big difference in the lives of these women.”
Additionally, the CLO is the collection point for donations, including clothes, books, shoes and glass jars.
When West isn’t working, she likes to plan family trips to see Ethiopia’s beautiful scenery on the weekends – including the Blue Nile Falls and the rock-hewn churches in Lalibella.
Her experiences in Ethiopia have also made West more appreciative of life in the U.S.
“Living in Ethiopia has really caused me to feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation to be an American and all the opportunities we’re afforded by living in our great land,” she said. “I have these opportunities simply because I was lucky enough to be born in the U.S. When returning back home, I look forward to simple conveniences such as fast and reliable Internet, orderly traffic, a telephone network that you can count on, drinking and brushing your teeth with tap water, and a constant stream of electricity. Of course, I enjoy the shopping too.”