Pathways: Living an American Dream

In the six years that Sgt. Vasil Mencev, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 240th Quartermaster Battalion, 49th QM Group, has been serving in the Army, he’s never met another Macedonian. That’s OK with him because he loves Army culture.

Since he was 10 years old, Mencev dreamed about going to America and becoming a U.S. Soldier. Shortly after completing high school, he joined the Macedonian army but served only for a year.

Mencev was part of the first wave of troops after Macedonia broke off from Yugoslavia in 1991. He said he remembers wearing boots that were 10 years old and clothes that kept falling off because they were too big on him.

“They wanted me to stay, but there was no future in it and the pay was just enough to get by,” he said.

When he came to the United States in 1995, he was 20 and anxious to join the U.S. Army. But he didn’t have permanent residence status. Six years later, he found the love of his life and got married. He said his wife was very supportive and excited about living a new life together as an Army Family.

Military life for Mencev was the most natural path to follow, even in a country where he was still adapting.

“My parents died when I was young, and I grew up in a state foster home,” he said. “We had a schedule of when to wake up, eat our meals and go to bed. If you missed a meal then you didn’t get it.”

That’s why a life of rigid order coupled with staying physically fit and firing weapons as found in the military was appealing to him.

But as much as he has adapted to a new environment and embraced his new career in the U.S. Army, Mencev can’t help being Macedonian in his conduct toward others.

“In Macedonia, neighbors get together even if its for a glass of water, here, Americans seem too focused on their work,” Mencev said.

He said he is used to a friendliness that makes every effort to reach out and relate to people, such as neighbors, coworkers and guests. Instead, Americans seem to be satisfied with a simple greeting.

From his experience in America, Mencev said it appears that the only time youth visit other people’s homes is for parties. In Macedonia, people visit each other’s homes frequently even if there isn’t a party.

“When people come to my home, I serve them food, not cheese snacks, and I’ll offer them a drink,” he said.

Every home in Macedonia will have a bar or counter with a variety of alcoholic drinks for the purpose of welcoming guests. Mencev has about everything from liquor to orange juice available just in case he might have a guest.

But what puzzles Mencev still is how some Americans drink.

“Before I came to the United States, I had never seen people take liquor shots,” he said. “In Macedonia, we sip the liquor. But here, I sometimes hear people talk about how drunk they got and puked and had a great time.”

For Mencev, drinking an alcoholic beverage is a means to build relationships with others. And building relationships is for Mencev an important value that he said is part of his Macedonian culture.

Mencev has met many people with different cultural backgrounds and even after six years in the Army he is still learning about the variety of Americans that wear the uniform. But Army culture is what gives unity to Soldiers with different nationalities, religions or ethnicities, he said.

“I like to learn about other Soldiers’ lives, but I don’t necessarily look at their background when I lead them (as a noncommissioned officer),” he said.

Mencev doesn’t expect to meet any other Macedonians in the Army soon, but he said that what’s more important to him in the U.S. Army is building up his Soldiers by building relationships with them.

Note: “Pathways” highlights the paths Soldiers take as they steer through American culture in the U.S. Army. If you have a similar story, call (804) 734-7610.