Sergeant Solomon Abanda proudly serves in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, but his path to get there has been complicated.
Born in Cameroon, Abanda came to the U.S. at 19 to study. After a series of missteps, he found himself living on the streets in Los Angeles.
He was homeless for two years before a chance encounter set his life on a different course.
A man walked up to him one day and invited him to a party, telling him to get on a bus waiting nearby. Abanda recalls thinking the offer was strange, but at that point, he had nothing to lose.
The "party" turned out to be a church program offering food and shelter.
"I knew I needed change, I knew I was tired of the homeless life, I knew I wanted more in life," said Abanda. "I didn't think I was designed to be homeless."
The Dream Center program helped Abanda find work, get off the street, and go back to school.
Walking past a recruiting station on the way to school, Abanda noticed a cardboard cut-out of a Special Forces soldier.
"I remember him looking really tough, like he was ready for whatever the world threw at him."
Abanda stepped inside to talk to the recruiter.
That spur of the of the moment decision launched his military career. Nine years later, he is about to purchase his first home near Fort Bragg.
"I always knew I wasn't going to end up homeless," he said. "I refused that fate, even though I didn't know how I was going to do it. It took someone unexpected to offer me that hand."
The Ft. Bragg Stories series is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.