CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan -- Sitting on a crate in a warehouse that could double as a sauna in the summer heat, Cpl. Mangamana Patchassi recalls the day he won the lottery; a lottery that would have far-reaching implications on Patchassi’s life. The journey started in 2008, in the West-African nation of Togo where Patchassi grew up. There, he came across a group of people registering entries for the American Visa Lottery as part of a business promotion. The lottery, a part of the Department of State’s Diversity Visa Program, raffled-off American entry visas to qualifying citizens of Togo as part of an effort to ensure national diversity among new immigrants to America. Patchassi, a student at the time, took the chance to register for the lottery, which promised not only a chance to win an entry visa, but to pay for all associated fees and the plane ticket, along with assisting the winner through the administrative process. “One day, I came across a team doing entries for the visa lottery for free, they took a picture of me, filled out some forms and that was it,” said Patchassi, who served as a supply warehouse clerk with III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF, until he executed a permanent change of duty station Aug. 24, assuming duties at II Marine Headquarters Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Patchassi went about his business in Togo without giving much additional thought to the lottery until one fateful day, a year later, when he received a call notifying him that he won. Believing the call was a prank or a scam, Patchassi immediately hung up the phone. “(The lottery official) knew how serious the visa lottery was and kept calling,” said Patchassi, “he kept calling until I picked up.” It would be another year before Patchassi would complete the administrative process to receive his visa, including interviewing with Patricia McMahon Hawkins, the American ambassador to Togo at the time. Patchassi arrived in Washington, D.C., Feb. 5, 2009. He enrolled in school at Prince George Community College in Kettering, Md., where, unbeknownst to him, he took the next steps in his journey toward earning the title Marine. “It was 2010, and I was walking on campus when I saw four Marine recruiters in their dress blues,” said Patchassi. “I was looking for a family, for brotherhood … and since America was willing to give me so much, I wanted to give something back.” Convinced that he had found the brotherhood and challenge he was looking for, along with a chance to give back to his new country, Patchassi left for recruit training at the end of the college semester. “My recruiter didn’t (promise me a rose garden),” said Patchassi. “He told me about how hard the training was going to be and how it was harder than all the other branches.” Following his training, Patchassi received orders to Okinawa, another world away from his birthplace. Despite the great geographical distance, Patchassi has not forgotten his family that still resides in Togo. “My goal now is helping support my family,” said Patchassi. “They supported me while I was going to school, and now I want to help support them. Even though I am the youngest, my family looks at me as though I am the oldest.” Patchassi, living up to his desire to give something back to his new country, has proven a hard worker and a valuable asset to the III MHG supply warehouse. “Things that (some senior Marines) may struggle with, he seems to handle pretty easily,” said Capt. Andrew Heiple, a supply officer with III MHG. “He does that on a regular basis and has been that way for the entirety of his tenure here.” The III MHG recognized Patchassi’s contribution to the unit and his exemplary conduct as a Marine, awarding him a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal at the conclusion of his tour. “When I took over this warehouse, (then) Lance Cpl. Patchassi was already running the personal effects cage, as well as the Defense Reutilization Management Office cage,” said Staff Sgt. Mark K. McCue, a staff noncommissioned officer with the III MHG supply warehouse. “He was executing two billets that were full-time jobs and running offices far beyond the rank he was wearing on his collar.” Patchassi’s unlikely journey started as a matter of luck, first in a chance encounter with the lottery and then again when he emerged as the lottery winner. It was hard work and dedication, however, which continued the improbable journey that resulted in Patchassi joining the small percentage of Americans serving their country as an active-duty Marine.