Finding Courage at GSU: Meet US Air Force Colonel Susumu Uchiyama

Susumu Uchiyama graduated from GSU with a Masters in Analytical Chemistry in 2004. He leveraged his degree as a forensic biometric officer for US Central Command in the Air Force. During his time on active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, he oversaw chemical residue analysis of explosives and conducted DNA analyses. One of his most interesting assignments was helping to track down Uday Hussein using a method of genetic DNA analysis called liquid chromatography. His research team was able to differentiate the real Uday Hussein's DNA from 5 decoys using this method.

Mr. Uchiyama also served as a commanding officer on the Afghan National Police Advisors Team, leading a 300 men-strong unit. He described his first experience in combat when he saw that explosives were aimed for his base: “These signals started going out, and we saw it was inbound. That was my first combat and I wasn’t prepared for it [...] I had to make sure nobody got hurt or killed. You have to escape the falling debris and get out. Control your temper; no panicking […] make sure everyone gets down, then once it stops, get out. Stay calm." 

He said that GSU helped him to develop "courage," which gave him resilience during combat: "Even in a tough situation like combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, GSU has helped me learn to cope with struggles and traumatic experiences. My overall experience at GSU helped me, particularly in war.” Like the military, Mr. Uchiyama notes, GSU offers a multicultural experience which creates a sense of "unity" and collaboration.

 Mr. Uchiyama is still on reserve as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. He volunteers for the VFW American legion, serving as a drill sergeant at memorial services. He has lived all over the world and is fluent in 5 languages. He recently returned to Joliet with his family and is looking for work.

 By Samantha Schmidt