The road less traveled: Fromzero’s journey to U.S. citizenship


There are very few people who would leave everything they know–their home, their family and friends, their job–to go somewhere new. Even fewer would leave the only country they’ve ever known to enlist in another country’s military with limited knowledge of the native language, but Pfc. Matt Fromzero did exactly that.

Pfc. Matt Fromzero (Mehmet Odabasi) assigned to Charlie Company, 128th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, has one of the most motivating, incredible stories, yet remains incredibly humble and grateful for the experiences he’s had so far.

When we talk about taking the road less traveled, Fromzero could write the book.

The Journey to Service

When talking to Fromzero, he sent a video about his journey to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and in the video was a quote, “The greatest product of will is a man who builds himself up from nothing.” That quote was said by Michael Kurcina, the founder of a tactical gear website for those in the Special Operations community. But this quote very accurately depicts Fromzero’s attitude and mindset.

Fromzero, a Pittsburgh resident, left his home country of Turkey several years ago as a political refugee to seek a better life.

When he came to the U.S., he left everything behind to start his new life from zero. This was so impactful to him, that he legally changed his name from Mehmet Odabasi to Matt Fromzero so he could always reflect on where he came from. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Fromzero. He started life here with no knowledge of the English language, in debt and working at a pizza shop as a delivery driver and dishwasher. Fromzero took other jobs like helping with roof and gutter maintenance, to make ends meet.

Fromzero decided to enlist in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to earn U.S. citizenship and learn new skills.

“I enlisted in the Army because I wanted to integrate into U.S. culture and learn English. I don’t have a home in Turkey anymore,” Fromzero said. “I wanted to get citizenship through the Army because I am a refugee.”

As one can imagine, Basic Combat Training is full of challenges for any soldier, but when you are a soldier who is still learning the English language, it is even more difficult.

“At the beginning of BCT I was scared to talk to Drill Sergeants,” said Fromzero. “They wanted quick responses from me and I had to filter and process what they said and then find the right English words to create a sentence. Sometimes I’d get in trouble or I’d be sweating because I couldn’t speak fast enough but this is how you improve using the language, by being out of your comfort zone.”

Fromzero recycled in BCT due to a stress fracture in his ankle but still pushed himself even after 20 weeks. As a testament to his grit and tenacity he earned a score of 555 out of 600 on the Army Combat Fitness Test.

After graduating BCT, Fromzero attended Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to train as a behavioral health specialist. For most soldiers, AIT is an opportunity to have just a little more freedom than BCT, but for Fromzero, he continued to push himself and advance his learning in his free time.

“I searched for more opportunities to learn and completed extra courses on Joint Knowledge Online about behavioral health,” he said.

He also took the Defense Language Institute’s assessment for the Turkish language and plans on taking the Turkish Language Proficiency Test through his assigned unit.

When asked about his choice of military occupational specialty, Fromzero again mentioned not taking the easy road, as most would expect.

“I chose this MOS because I wanted to challenge myself. I could choose a short or easy MOS, but I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone,” Fromzero said. “I chose the hardest one for me– a communication-related job. In the beginning, I was concerned because I was at the beginner level in the English language and I had to learn how to counsel service members and do behavioral assessments while still learning English. I watched maybe hundreds of hours of videos to learn psychology and English at the same time.”

And after 18 difficult weeks at AIT, Fromzero got the reward of a lifetime–a very special reunion with his father, whom he hadn’t seen in five years. Fromzero’s father was able to travel from Turkey to attend his much-anticipated graduation. Ask Fromzero to show you the video of their emotional reunion and he’ll proudly share it with you–one of those videos you’ll want to watch over and over again.

He’s also realized all the benefits the Army and military service have to offer–most importantly the unbreakable bonds created through shared experiences.

“The Army is like my family. The Army gives me an opportunity to integrate into my country,” he said. “If someone asks me, ‘how’s your life going abroad?’ I say, hold on, I’m not abroad, I’m in my home country.”

And while the journey has not been an easy one, he is still thankful for the support and acceptance he’s received.

“I think the Army is like a melting pot,” he said. “They accept me with my broken English, they give me a prayer mat, they give me halal meals, a prayer room, and a Muslim chaplain.”

Plans for the Future

Now that Pfc. Fromzero has in-processed at his unit, he still feels the same passion he did on day one, but now has an enhanced love of country.

“The United States gives me freedom,” he said. “As a refugee, I didn’t come here for economic reasons or to use the government’s benefits and then go back to Turkey. I came here to become a citizen and part of this society. I feel fidelity to serve because the USA gives me priceless freedom and honorable life standards.”

When asked about his plans for the future, Fromzero was excited to think about what it might hold.

“I would like to work in the Army until my retirement,” he said. “I am working to improve my English to be advanced, and continue my bachelor’s degree in social work.

“After completing my bachelor’s, I hope one day to be a commissioned officer and serve as a social worker. I’m also interested in Army schools like Airborne, Air Assault, and leadership courses.”

There’s something all can learn from Pfc. Matt Fromzero’s story. To take the road less traveled. To have the courage to take the next step. To push ourselves to be better every day, and to have the tenacity and grit to get through even the toughest circumstances.

Date Taken: 11.18.2023
Date Posted: 11.20.2023 10:58
Story ID: 458145

Web Views: 4
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