Paving My Way: Doris Anakwe's Path From Warrant Officer To Culinary Non-Profit

By Jocelyne Gafner

Published November 7, 2022

Jocelyne Gafner is a writer and editor for Indeed with five-plus years of experience in content creation. She is passionate about the power of words and their impact on equitable access to information.

Content Warning: This article will contain a mention of sexual assault.

Welcome to Paving My Way, a series that highlights the humanity, passion and drive that make up a person’s career journey. In each article, we’ll sit down with a real individual to understand where they are in their career journey, how they got there and where they’re going next.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, we sat down with Doris Anakwe, retired Chief Warrant Officer Four in the United States Army and current culinary arts student working towards gaining the certifications necessary to start a non-profit aimed at feeding veterans in need. Doris tells us about her career path, which began at 18 when she first immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria and began volunteering in New York to her rapid ascent in the U.S. military. Doris is working to make a difference for struggling veterans, paving the way for herself, and others.

Q: What’s your career journey looked like so far?

A: I'm originally from Nigeria. I left when I was 18 years old—I had just graduated from high school, when I came to the States, to New York.

I started off with something called City Volunteer Corp. Which is a program that I did for a whole year. I was volunteering all over New York City. I was working with the elderly. I was working with people with AIDS—children and adults. We painted benches at the park, we cleaned up streets and all of that. That's really where my career began.

When I was done, I went to college. At that time, City Volunteer Group gave me, I think it was $2,000 when I was done with the program to go to college. While I was going to college I was also working for the city of New York as an institutional aide. When I completed my bachelor's degree, which was in Health Education and Promotion, I immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army. For what reason, I don't know. But something just kept saying, “go in, go in, go in” so I went in.

I came in as an E-4, which was an enlisted rank, but my goal was to be an officer. So I had to do what I had to do. I took all the classes that I had to take, attended all the military schools that I needed to attend, and I was actually fast tracking.

Eventually, I put in my warrant packet, and I got selected for warrant school. I wanted to become a Warrant Officer, but everybody would tell me I was an overachiever because I'm one of those people that likes things to be done right.

I always felt like I had to work three, four times harder compared to my male colleagues because as a black female it felt like everyone was looking at me more critically. I had to work extremely hard so no one could ever tell me anything was given to me. Everything that I got, I earned, and it wasn't easy.

I was deployed several times. I went to Bosnia and two tours in Iraq. When I was enlisted—I always volunteered for hard tasks. I volunteered with a different unit to go to Nicaragua in ‘99 for a humanitarian mission when they had a big hurricane that killed a lot of people.

I always volunteered because I felt like volunteering gave me an edge over a lot of people. I took tasks that others wouldn’t do, and so when I put in my warrant packet I was selected.

I wanted to teach my soldiers what right looked like, so I always competed in the Supply Excellence Award. That's an award that is given to logistical warehouses (I was a Warrant Officer, and I ran warehouses). I managed a warehouse that was worth over $50 million and I had to keep track of everything to ensure that nothing was missing. Everything that was ordered had to go through me—even pens and paper. I worked with aviation and patriot missiles and ensured that everything was always ordered at the right time and they received the parts. If I had to expedite something for them so they could get it in time to continue their war mission, I did that.

I served for almost 21 years and before retirement I taught at the Warrant Officer Career College, instructing new Warrant Officers coming into the military. If I was to do it again, I would join the military again. Knowing that I was protecting our freedom and that serving gave everybody the opportunity to speak their mind and do what they had to do, was very fulfilling. There were times that it was rough because I had a son and I was almost never there because I was constantly deployed, but if I was to do it again today, I would. That's just it.

Q: What does your day-to-day look like now?

A: Currently I'm in school. Since I retired from the military, I've had a lot of health issues, so I’ve been trying to overcome those, and going to school became a source of relief for me. I decided to attend school to learn culinary arts, and what I'd like to do with a culinary arts degree is eventually start a nonprofit and provide a kitchen for Veterans.

I see a lot of Veterans out there that are homeless, and other homeless people to whom I am constantly giving money for food. What I want to do is to have a kitchen where I can make food and give it out to the people who need it.

Q: How are you envisioning starting your nonprofit?

A: Right now, I’m thinking I don't want to dive into something too big and risk that it fails. So I'll start off small by doing it in my home because I have a big kitchen. I'm already going to have all my food service certifications, such as food handler and sanitation, so if the inspectors want to come to the house and inspect, they can.

From there, I can move on to something bigger when I get other people involved—I’d like to involve other veterans. But I want to get started first and see how it's going to work and then I can bring in other veterans—veterans helping veterans. 

Q: What are some hurdles you had to overcome to get to where you are in your career?

A: When I first enlisted into the military, I came in with a degree, and normally when you have a degree you can come in as an officer. People looked at me as a threat, even though I didn't feel like I was a threat to anybody—I always did everything that I was told to do.

When I first came into the military the Company Commander held an inspection every Monday and I always tried to win the “soldier of the day” by ensuring that my boots were properly shined. So shiny you could basically see your face in them. I made sure everything was always in place. But even though I did all that, I had male NCOs that felt like I was a threat.

When it was time to go to the promotion board to be promoted to E-5, the NCO who was in charge of me told me that he knew if he sent me to the board I’d ace it and get promoted, but he told me he didn't want me to get promoted. But I was always somebody that did everything I was supposed to be doing and I was not afraid of nobody. I was very respectful toward everybody. I did everything that I was supposed to do, the way I was supposed to do it. I followed the chain of command. So when people did things like that, I would simply speak to them, and try to solve it at the lowest level. I would let them know that I felt like they were discriminating against me and ask them to change and if they didn’t change, I would take the issue higher.

I had an NCO who kept sexually harassing me all the time and at first, I kept taking it. He would say inappropriate things to me in front of the other NCOs because I was the only female that worked in that office. I didn't want to hurt his career, but I told him that I was going to turn him in if he didn’t stop what he was doing. Then he started treating me even worse, giving me negative evaluations.

But courage was my guiding factor my whole time in the military. If I didn't have the courage and the self-esteem to say to myself, “Hey, I'm worth more than this, this is not how it's supposed to be.” I think I probably would have had a nervous breakdown. I probably would have allowed people to treat me like dirt. I probably would have allowed those male soldiers to sexually harass me and take it because I felt like that was the norm, but I knew that I'm worth more than that. I knew what my worth was, and I knew what courage was. Anytime I face an obstacle, I realize what my worth is. And with that courage, I can do whatever I need to do.

Q: Who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?

A: The biggest inspiration in my life has been my father. My mother left my father when I was six years old, and I remember my father going everywhere, searching for her, but he couldn't find her. He took it upon himself to take care of us. He did everything he had to do.

He was the one that taught me, that, “You know what? You deserve anything a man deserves. You can be who you want to be.” He really guided me and my siblings in the right way, and he gave us everything we needed. When I wanted to join the military, he knew what to say to me to keep me going, to keep my courage going. A person like that, to me, is number one in my book. He was that mother, and he was that father to me. Even though he's dead, I try to visit Nigeria every year so I can go to his grave and speak to him and just be with him because he did so much for me and my siblings. He made us who we are. I mean, we're just very strong individuals as a result of him.

Q: What has been your proudest career accomplishment?

A: Being able to mentor people and see them exceed my expectations. I was speaking to someone who worked for me in the military—I wrote him a letter for Green to Gold and he's a major right now. He called me the other day and he was telling me that he's thinking of retiring. The reason why he called me is so I could give him pointers on retirement. I've been retired since 2015 and I still have people that are in the military, even my superiors still call me up to get advice from me. And sometimes I think I don't know how the military works anymore, I've been gone for so long, but they still seek advice from me.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very hard on my soldiers, but I was fair with all of them. They knew that “I got their backs. Anything that happens, she got our back” So many of my previous soldiers still come to me each time anyone needs advice or gets promoted, they always thanked me in their promotion speech because of everything that I've done for them. So I just feel that that was my impact.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who's trying to find their passion?

A: You just have to find what it is that you like. Let's say you want to be a cook. If you want to be a cook, read everything about being a cook. If it means starting from being a dishwasher, be the best dishwasher. And then you move up, you elevate. Do everything you're told to do. Never cut corners. Always be straight up. If you're told to put two garlic in a dish, use two garlic. Don't try to cut corners by using one garlic.

Find out what your passion is and nurture it. When you nurture your passion, you can do great things. I have a son. My son is autistic, and he loves graphic design. I give him everything that he needs to nurture that aspect of his passion. You can’t let anybody dissuade you. If you have a passion, go for your passion. Do everything you need to do, but always be on the up and up and always have integrity. Because if you have a passion and you want to succeed at that and you have integrity, believe me, you can be good at what you're doing. But if you don't have integrity, it's not going to work.

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