Paul Keng’ara: Kenyan Who Defied Father’s Advice On Joining US Navy At The Height Of Iraq War Now Leading Operation In 14 Countries

Paul Keng’ara is a target developer working for United States Africa Command.

He was born and raised in Nairobi, and he is currently serving as an assessor for exercise Cutlass Express (CE) 2023.

CE is is an annual Maritime Exercise sponsored by US Africa Command (USAFRICOM) and conducted by United States Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) in the West Indian Ocean and East African coastal regions.

Kengara leads the operation in 14 countries, and his role is evaluating the mission’s progress as well as offering insights and solutions.

Here is his story as told by WoK.


Growing in Nairobi, Kengara went through the British school system and he was certain that he would go abroad for his university studies.

Later when he was 17, he travelled to the UK where his mother was studying daycare and nursery, leaving behind his father working in Nairobi.

However, Kengara didn’t like it in the UK because his mother was there, and as such, he opted for an alternative.

“So I looked for a school in America, and went to Michigan where my aunt lived, and later Florida after I switched my major from business to Aeronautics

“I’ve always been fascinated by airlines – not really the flying bit, really just the engineering aspect of aviation,” he said.

With one year left in university, he was enlisted in the U.S Navy.

In an interview with the US Naval Forces, Kengara explained that joining the navy had nothing to do with money because he grew up privileged.

“I didn’t necessarily need to worry about money. I’d already traveled, so joining the Navy was not to travel, as I had no conception of the Navy being a force that sees the world

“Also, I didn’t really have any conception about the military, or what it did whether it was Kenya, the UK, or the US, it was just a defense force. On top of that, I already had a green card in the US. I could stay ten years and apply for citizenship,” he said.

The army man noted that joining the military was in a bid to forge his own path and cut reliance from his parents.

“I wanted to be my own person. It was a sticking point in my family too. In African culture, as the first born, I don’t have absolute say over what I do,” Kengara said.

However, joining the army for Kengara was not easy as his dream was met by strong opposition from his father.

“Iraq war was in full swing, and I had all these resources and other options available. I fly back to Nairobi six months later, and tell him I still want to join

“It was still no. And then I joined. I 100% went against the culture there he didn’t talk to me for a while because of it,” he said.

He was enlisted in US Navy and because of the degree that he held, he was deployed as a duty mechanic for a helicopter squadron in San Diego, Southern California. 

“It was hard, but I met some amazing people, and some of the worst people. But it was those interactions that almost confirmed that I needed to go officer, to make the change that I wanted to see,” he stated.

Kengara was responsible for professional development of sailors, a role he served for 15 years before he was transferred to the Reserves.

“I got out, and went Reserves. Part of me regrets it, it hasn’t been easy in the Reserves. You know, active duty, your path is charted for you – when it’s time to rotate, your detailer tells you where to go; you have admin officers taking care of your records for you

“As a reservist, it’s you even with a full time job, you still have to work annual trainings, keep up-to-date in the community, and observe your Navy requirements. There’s a lot of admin that goes in the background. But it has brought me back to Kenya,” he added.

Kengara is currently serving as an assessor for exercise Cutlass Express (CE) 2023, leading the operation in 14 countries.

Country participating in the exercise include Canada, Comoros, Djibouti, France, Georgia, Greece, Kenya and Madagascar.

Others are Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, United Kingdom and the US.

“At the end of the day I’m a child of the soil, I will be buried here in Kenya, I will come back here. I can be American all day long, but this is home

My Mom and Dad are here, my brothers and sisters are here, everybody is here. However well I get paid, I will always come back home,” Kengara said.