Being a pilot was my great ambition from childhood. When I was playing with my friends, every time I was trying to be a pilot, making my hands look like wings. When my father was taking us sightseeing or shopping, I was always choosing airplane for toys. When I saw Top Gun, I was always trying to be cool like him. When we were wearing our flight suits, we have to fold our collars down to look more formal, but I was always leaving it up to look as cool as Tom Cruise.
I just finished high school. It was a night in winter, my mom was cooking and I was sitting next to the heater because it was very cold outside. I was telling my father that I don’t want to go to university and that I just want to enjoy for one year. At that moment, my friend called me and said he need my help. Because he knows that my English is good, he needs my help for a test to get into the Air Force University. It was first time I heard of Air Force University. He said if you get in, they will send you to US or European countries to become a pilot. As soon as he said pilot, a current ran through my body.
I went to take the test and I scored enough to get into Air Force University. However, we did not learn to fly in University. We learn how to fly from trainings in other countries, like US, Czech Republic, UAE. Before we graduated, the US advisors came to give an English test. When we did the test, I scored high enough to go to US and learn to fly.
When my visa came, it was for a helicopter. When I saw that, I was a little bit sad because I wanted to be a jet pilot from childhood. But my father’s friend said being nominated for US training means I will have a good future because their degree certificates are very good to have. My father said, “You will still be a pilot. You will fly helicopters.”
I learned at Fort Rucker Aviation Flight School in Alabama. Because the US government has a contract with Afghanistan for Black Hawk, we start Black Hawk training. I saw a Black Hawk do an emergency pickup before. The way it manoeuvres, lands, I was so amazed. I was so lucky to get on Black Hawk training.
After 3 months training, four of us graduated as the first Afghan Black Hawk pilots. Our graduation ceremony was a very good one in Fort Rucker Aviation Museum. There were many US high rankers there, even one of the colonels who spent so much time in Afghanistan. He gave me my diploma, and he was very, very happy for us. I also received the late John McCain letter of commendation. I was very proud to have that. After that, we came back to Afghanistan.
I went to Kandahar Airfield for MQT [mission qualification training]. We had US advisors for the training. After mission qualification training, mostly every pilot become a co-pilot. They have to fly fly 300 hours in mission and then become flight commander. But after graduation, I was directly an aircraft commander for Black Hawk. I served 28 provinces out from 34 provinces.
One night, we came late from flight. We were sitting in military vehicle and the driver was taking approval from the officer who was in control of the gate. I was watching the window of Air Force Commander office. My friend asked me, “What are you looking?” I told him “I’m looking to that office. It will soon one day be my office.”
I really liked working with US advisors and military. One night, we were 3 Black Hawks and we flew for CASEVAC [casualty evacuation] flight to a high enemy threat area. Our military had some Afghan soldiers who unfortunately died in the war. They didn’t have flight sooner. It was about two weeks after they died and also they didn’t have refrigerator or cooling system to get the body cool. So they were not in a good condition. Fortunately, we landed safely and we took their bodies to get them to their family members. After that mission, we wanted to come back to our airfield, but the weather was not good. There was a storm and unfortunately, we go into the storm. I remember, we couldn’t see anything. I was scared and my crew was the same. I was thinking this is the end. We will crash and we will all die. But I never give up.
Luckily, some of our instructors went to the tower and start communication with us on the radio. After a long and very hard efforts, finally we get to the ground. Some of our US Black Hawk advisors and US military personnel came outside to meet us. They were clapping for us, saying “You guys are great.” One of my advisors told me that the tower said “They will crash. They will not make it back. It is 99% crash.” But we make the 1%.
My father was always saying, “Son, I’m real proud of you.. The way you’re serving the country and the way you are flying, I’m really proud of you.” And I was feeling the same: proud, because I was serving my country. I was Captain. I was also nominated for special promotion for a major rank. If Afghan government would not collapse, I would become a US 60 Black Hawk squadron commander in Northern Afghanistan.
We had a night flight on 13 August 2021. Most of the provinces were already collapsed and Taliban took the control. Only two provinces were not in control of Taliban, Kabul and the nearest province Logar. The government prepare special force crew to go there and take control of the fighting soldiers and not let Taliban come in and get control. We flew in the midnight and dropped those people in Logar. We get back around 2.30 in the morning. Early next morning, we found out that they all surrendered to Taliban. That was the last flight I did.
When Taliban get control of the country, they announce amnesty for everyone. It makes us calm and relaxed. But in the meantime, our US advisors were working on applications to get us out of country. But Taliban were not standing on their amnesty. They were still searching for pilots, for intelligence officers and for every single person who was working in the military. One friend said they come to our neighbor’s house and they took that guy who was serving as a military officer. No one knows where they took him. Everyone was scared. I was not living in my house. I was trying to hide in different locations.
One night, I was in my uncle’s house. It was almost midnight, and my sister called me very scared. She was saying, “Don’t come to the house. Please don’t come to the house.” I got scared and I said, “What happened? You’re scaring me. Tell me what happened.” She said, “There are people standing in front of our house, screaming your name.” My mother was also scared. I could hear her voice telling my sister, “Tell Shahpur, please if someone get to your uncle’s house, just run from there. Just run. Run somewhere that even we don’t know.” I was so scared. I couldn’t fall asleep until the morning. Everything was getting worse, second by second. I was asking my US advisors and friends to get us out. Finally, we found a way to get in the airport and get out of the country.
I get emotional the day I entered the airport and saw the situation inside the airport. Before that, every time when we were entering the airport and we were walking towards our aircraft, everyone was smiling. Everyone was working with a good smile on the face. And the field was also clean. But that night, I saw everyone was scared, everyone was crying. And every single thing was broken. People were running. They were just trying to get out of the country. But fortunately, we made it. We get out of the country and we came to United States.
This is what I am made for. This is what I’m born for. I like to fly again as an airline pilot. To fly for private companies. I want to provide good life for my family here in the United States and spend time with them.
When I came to US, I was searching for a job. A friend of mine, who helped me in the evacuation, he knew about Upwardly Global. He gave me very good positive comments about them. He said that “lots of pilots connect with Upwardly Global and they help them to find a job where they’re flying now. Maybe that will happen to you too.” I was very happy to hear that and really wanted to connect with Upwardly Global. Every person I met at Upwardly Global is very friendly, very helpful, very nice. I really appreciate them.
Upwardly Global also helped me get my current job. I am working as a flight line technician in an airport with a good company. I am providing services for aircrafts, like fueling, transportation services, towing aircraft from one place to another, and some customer services.
Upwardly Global just told me about another training that they can help me with for a FAA certificate to become a flight dispatcher. This is also very interesting to me. I could work with an airliner, oversee flight safety and control. They told me that opportunity is there to be recruited to another job, bigger job from flight dispatcher. Maybe even as an airline pilot too!
When my family gets emotional about Afghanistan, my father motivates us. He says “We will have a good life in U.S. A new life is waiting for us to start.”
Photos provided by Shahpur.
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