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Around The Fleet

Fulfilling Dreams While Inspiring Others

A Cameroon native's success through hard work and sacrifice motivates others back home

A medical physicist who joined the Navy Reserve last year says the day he received his selection letter was the most meaningful day of his life. But for his family back home in Africa, his example of success through hard work and sacrifice gives inspiration to those who want a better way of life.

Ensign James Tanyi works in the Radiation Oncology Department at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, Ore. He splits his time performing clinicals, teaching, researching and mentoring medical students. Early mornings often turn into late nights. One might think the all-consuming job would be enough.

But for Tanyi, it was not. He had another dream to fulfill.

As we sat in the dimly lit office, his bright white lab coat complemented his dark skin; he spoke softly and deliberately, choosing his words carefully to reveal the raw honesty of his experiences.

For Tanyi, the day he was accepted into the Navy Reserve had deeper significance than the day he became a U.S. citizen.

Tanyi grew up in the west central African country of Cameroon as one of five children. His father, Isaac, served 32 years in the army, spending the money he earned to pay for his children's education. Issac visited his son this past summer, only his second time in the U.S. and he spoke proudly of his son as he shared the difficulties James had overcome to achieve all he has.

"James had a number of sacrifices at home and at school," said Isaac. "We had no libraries, just some obsolete types of books. Back home, very few families are committed to pushing children to be educated. One, because they're poor; the means are not there for a family to send a child to school. Very few exceptions like James can do it. Fortunately, for him, he was intelligent."

Tanyi's hard work early on made him competitive and a desirable prospect when applying for scholarships at foreign universities. In 1997, he was accepted to the Naval Academy as an exchange student to study physics.

"We were very impressed and very happy that a child from a third world country can aspire up to that level to enter the U.S. Naval Academy, which we thought was only meant for Americans," Isaac said. "He did exceptionally well and the country was proud because of him."

Due to his citizenship, Tanyi was not allowed to become a naval officer. It crushed him, but did not deter him.

Upon graduation, he accepted a fellowship to study nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan where his interest turned to medicine and the desire to work with patients. He had the opportunity to work in a clinic while pursuing his doctorate at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

It wasn't until February of 2012, more than ten years after graduating from the Naval Academy, that Tanyi became a U.S. citizen. But it was another date that had even more meaning to him.

As with most Americans, the events of 9/11 greatly impacted Tanyi. But the date, to him, continued to be of great meaning.

On September 11, 2009, his son was born. Tanyi applied for
U.S. citizenship shortly thereafter.

On September 11, 2012, Tanyi received his orders from the United States Navy to become an engineering duty officer.

He turned to his computer and proudly opened the scanned document, as if opening the letter for the first time, pointing out the date.

He took a moment to reflect.

"It was one of the most powerful letters I've ever received," said Tanyi, "Even more than my degrees. It has powerful, personal meaning."

Since his commissioning, Tanyi has attended annual training and is the division officer of his class. He drills one weekend each month and could not be more proud to serve this country as a commissioned officer in the Navy Reserve.

"The Academy shaped who I am today," Tanyi explained. "It's an honor to put on the uniform. I am grateful to the Navy."

"His hard work, his sacrifices, his determination and all what you can think about made him what he is today," said Isaac. "Back home we say that blood runs in the veins. He has taken my own example. I was trying to do everything for the family so that they should not be a lost family. Today he's making the family very proud. He's taking care of the family. He's a very hard working young man. He has sacrificed much for the family. Now he's not only working for us, but he's working for your country too. He's doing something encouraging to this nation."
Navy Photo

Cecilia and Isaac Tanyi of Cameroon pose for a photo while visiting their son, James, over the summer in Portland, Ore.