News Stories

A little help from her friends

By Coast Guard Seaman John Rooney

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Tengetile Tsabedze let out a yell as she jumped out of the massage chair, totally startled by
the sensation that it sent up her back. Chisom Olajide, her friend and classmate at the Defense
Information School on Fort Meade, couldn’t control her laughter as Tsabedze experienced a
mechanical back rub in a shopping mall for the first time.
“We definitely don’t have chairs like that back home,” said Tsabedze, a first lieutenant in the
eSwatini Defense Force.
Even though they were surrounded by strangers, the two pals giggled and howled as if they
were all alone.
Although much of her time as a DINFOS student was far more stressful than this afternoon at
the mall was, Tsabedze knew she could rely on her friends to help her make it to graduation,
scheduled for Oct. 24 at DINFOS.
Tsabedze said she was a nervous wreck before leaving her husband, her children and her
home country to come train in the U.S.
Formerly known as Swaziland, eSwatini is a nation in southeastern Africa with an area
slightly smaller than New Jersey and a population of 1.3 million.
Already the first woman to work in the eSwatini Defense Force public affairs office, Tsabedze
was also about to become the first soldier from her service to attend the Basic Public Affairs
Specialist Course at DINFOS.
“I was very reluctant to go at first,” said Tsabedze, a lively woman who wears her hair in
cornrows. “I still went because I didn’t want to let down my commander. I knew it was
important to my career, and it would be an honor for me to take part in such good training.”
She said her confidence, already shaky, hit rock bottom when she failed her first public affairs
exam.
Tsabedze, who learned the British style of English when she was young, attributed her early
struggles to the fast-paced way of speaking that Americans, especially military members, can
have when explaining things.
“She fell behind a lot in class but was afraid to raise her hand because she didn’t want anyone
to think she was dumb,” said Olajide, a native of Nigeria who has lived in the U.S. for several
years and is a specialist in the Army. “I hated to see that because she’s such an intelligent
woman.”
Olajide said she would stop by Tsabedze’s desk after class to go over anything she might have
missed and gave her rides in her car whenever she needed. Before long, the two had strong trust
in each other.
“Olajide is a sister,” Tsabedze said. “She’ll always be a sister. She understood how hard the
change of culture can be. I’ll always appreciate what she did for me.”
Although Tsabedze had someone to make Fort Meade feel a little more like home, she still
struggled with the course work in BPASC.
She said photography was a daily source of frustration. Having never taken a photograph with
anything other than her cell phone, Tsabedze was now equipped with a Nikon D750. She had to
quickly learn how to deal with shutter speeds, f-stops, flash settings and two different types of
lenses.
“Uploading the photos to the computer was confusing enough for me,” she said. “All those
buttons on the camera seemed impossible to figure out.”
One day, the fire alarm in Tsabedze’s hotel went off, and everyone had to evacuate.
“I remember texting Olajide and telling her that if it’s a real fire, I hope my camera melts in
there,” she joked.
It was a false alarm, and Tsabedze returned to class the next day with her camera intact.
Still a bit nervous about raising her hand in class, Tsabedze came to rely on her classmates
around her to help her grasp the skills that she needed to succeed.
Army Pfc. Emma Anderson, who sat next to Tsabedze, was always happy to help.
“She was very open to constructive criticism,” Anderson said of her classmate. “She had such
a drive to learn. She really heeded everything I tried to show her and was able to find success in
every area of the course.”
One task that Tsabedze said she needed no assistance with was on-camera interviews.
Although many students tend to struggle with speaking on camera for the first time, Tsabedze
was confident right from the start due her experience as a news reporter in eSwatini.
“She got a 100 on the first try,” Anderson said with a smile. “We practiced together, and she
actually gave me a lot of pointers and helped me get a better grade.”
Acing this portion of the course gave Tsabedze the confidence she needed to power through
the rest of the functional areas in BPASC.
Tsabedze began seeking out the help of her instructors more often and would regularly stay
hours after class to go over lessons with her photography, public affairs and journalism
instructors.
She said she began seeing much better grades and was able to redeem herself from that first
failed exam. She even began to enjoy photography.
“My corporal is the one in my (public affairs office) who usually takes all the pictures,” she
said. “When I get home, I will tell him that it’s my turn to take photos. I’m very excited to show
off my new skills.”
Tsabedze said she is already planning to return to DINFOS one day for advanced training but
is looking forward to going home for now.
“I will leave with a smile,” she said. “I have met so many good people here, and I know my
country will be proud of me when I get home.”