In Anchorage's running community, David Kiplagat is a known distance specialist. He's also a specialist at work -- in the U.S. Army.
Spc. Kiplagat joined the Army in October and is one of five former UAA runners from Kenya who have enlisted.
Ruth Keino, Alfred Kangogo and Miriam Kipng'eno are all stationed in Germany, according to UAA coach Michael Friess, and recent UAA grad Isaac Kangogo departs for basic training June 30.
"I know they've always been very conscientious of appreciating their opportunities," Friess said. "I think it's very, very cool how they're helping serve our country now."
Isaac Kangogo said his reason for joining the military is twofold: the Army is looking for recruits who speak a foreign language -- he speaks Swahili -- and experience is needed to find work in a highly competitive and limited job market in Kenya.
In his home country, a college degree isn't enough to secure a job, he said, due to a disproportionate number of educated citizens and available jobs.
"Kenya produces really good graduates," Kangogo said.
That's why on-the-job training is so important, and that's why Kangogo is heading to Fort Jackson in South Carolina next week. Kiplagat, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from UAA, is stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado.
Kiplagat said his new home is similar to Alaska, where he lived for nearly a decade.
"The only difference is the altitude," Kiplagat said Saturday after winning his third Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in four years.
Foreigners seeking to enlist in any branch of the U.S. military have to meet certain requirements.
They must be living in the U.S. legally and obtain a Visa, which allows foreigners to live and work in the country, according to Paul Prince, deputy director of public affairs with Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
Applicants must be 17 to 35 years old, they must speak, read and write English fluently and they must meet mental, physical and moral enlistment standards, said Christine Parker, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command.
According to a Time Magazine report, 80,000 non-U.S. citizens enlisted in the military from 1999-2010, making up 4 percent of recruits during that time.
In 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order allowing foreigners who served in the military to file for citizenship immediately. Kangogo said the news of that opportunity has spread through his circle of friends, both at UAA and in the Lower 48, and now he's looking forward to his four-year commitment.
"I like traveling," Kangogo said. "I don't care where I go."
Kiplagat, who calls Anchorage his hometown, said he plans to stay in the United States. Aside from work experience, the Army might provide him with the chance to continue to pursue running. The Army's World Class Athlete Program, whose goal is to help soldiers make the U.S. Olympic team, is headquartered at Fort Carson.
But even if he's admitted to the program, Kiplagat said athletics is not his top priority right now.
"Running is not my job in the Army," he said. "Running is just for my exercise."
Beth Bragg contributed to this report. Reach Mike Nesper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Note: A previous version of this story reported that foreigners seeking to enlist in the U.S. military needed a Green Card.
By MIKE NESPER