Former African child soldier helps Americans get fit

Tue Aug 31, 2010 3:53pm EDT
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For most of his life, Tchicaya Missamou's warrior training made him into a killing machine. Now, he is using his skills to help Americans get fit.

Missamou's memoir, "In the Shadow of Freedom," recounts his childhood in Congo Republic and his journey to America, his tour in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps and, finally, civilian life in California, where he opened the Warrior Fitness gym that teaches Congolese and U.S. fighting techniques.

"By the time you finish this book, you will understand that there is not an obstacle that you cannot overcome," Missamou, 32, told Reuters. "I want people to control their own destiny."

Growing up in Congo-Brazzaville as one of 16 siblings born to his father's seven wives, Missamou's childhood was shaped by the violence that sprung up in the 1990s following the oil-rich central African nation's first democratic elections.

Missamou describes how, at around 14, he and his teenage friends were handed guns and a few grenades and put in charge of a checkpoint with orders to block members of rival ethnic groups from entering the area.

"I saw awful things during this time," he wrote in the book, co-written with Travis Sentell that was published earlier this month by Atria Books. "These militias had learned what a mighty weapon Congolese youth could be in a struggle."

When the fighting ended, the boys returned to their former lives and Missamou entered Congo-Brazzaville's gendarmerie.

Violence broke out again in 1997, and this time Missamou became a war profiteer. He assembled a convoy of armed men and struck lucrative deals with Brazzaville whites, most of whom had fled, to rescue abandoned suitcases of cash and valuables.   Continued...