Afghan pilot left his country and resettled in Chattanooga | Tennessee News

By WYATT MASSEY, Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) – It was mission impossible, he wrote. Or, perhaps more accurately, a suicide mission.

Within days, his country had fallen to the Taliban, a reality Khial Shinwari had not expected. He saw the horror of the evacuation of the Afghan military base. The Afghan air force colonel had gone to bed one morning after a night mission only to be woken hours later by people running around him, chiefs with stoic faces.

“It was like the end of the world. The planes were flying from the taxiways, (the) opposite direction to the runway,” Shinwari said. “It was the end of the world.”

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The 35-year-old Afghan military leader was miles away from his wife and two young children. Leaving the military base to pick them up was too risky. Taliban fighters were targeting air force workers, Shinwari said. Kill the pilots, control the skies.

More than a decade earlier, in 2009, Shinwari had been trained to fly aircraft in Oklahoma, including Alenia C-27s and Cessna 208s. Later, Shinwari learned to fly C-130s and was the first Afghan pilot to do so in his country.

He was drawn to the sky from his childhood.

“When I looked at airplanes, I loved airplanes,” he said. “And I always wished and hoped…I could be a pilot. So I followed my dreams. And that’s how I ended up. I was the only member of my whole family to be in the air force and to be a pilot.

As of August 2021, he was one of the few remaining pilots in the country. He would not leave without his family, even as the Taliban controlled more and more territory.

Then the mission came: there were 130 people in Kandahar, the city where Shinwari was born, who held out hope for an evacuation.

“I suddenly decided, like if something happened to me or my plane, it was just me. It’s one family,” Shinwari said. is 130 families. So I decided to go back. I had the honor of being the first pilot and being the first to fly in Afghanistan with (a) C-130 and also being the last to fly in Afghanistan, which was sad and painful.

He flew at night, the safest time. Mission Impossible, or Mission Suicide, as Shinwari described it on Facebook, was a success.

But the moment he returned to Kabul, he faced another impossible mission. American forces and his friends were urging him to leave. But he thought of his wife, his daughter and his son, then less than 2 months old.

“I just looked at these American friends and told them I’m not leaving without my family. And they told me the only priority was you, and we had to get you, and I told them I couldn’t do it. I have to stay here,” he said.

Shinwari remained on the base for several days, until miraculously his family was brought to the gates and let in. They quickly left, Shinwari wearing only the clothes on his back. Passports, souvenirs, were left behind.

The family moved from Afghanistan to Qatar to Germany to the United States in September and finally to Chattanooga in October.

The transition has been difficult, Shinwari said. He works as a technician in a factory, trying to earn enough to support his family. Although he knows English, his wife does not and he also teaches her to drive. Finding a job was difficult, he said, and finding an apartment without a job or credit history was also difficult.

Shinwari entered a US refugee system that is disjointed and cumbersome, said Marina Peshterianu, associate director of Bridge Refugee Services. Many refugees come to America and take the first job they can get to support themselves or their families, she said. The process of recertification in any career field they were previously in is difficult, she said, especially if they have to take courses to reacquire their credentials.

“That’s why displacement and war are so bad,” she said.

Peshterianu said 26 Afghan refugees came to Chattanooga after the evacuation from Afghanistan. More than 600 came to Tennessee, with the majority settling in the Nashville area.

Shinwari hopes to fly again, with cargo planes or an airline. He is motivated and gets a lot of help, Peshterianu said.

The city of Chattanooga is creating the Office for New Americans to help new residents, said Joda Thongnopnua, the city’s chief of staff. The office will report to the Office of Equity and Community Engagement and will help make documents accessible in a variety of languages ​​and ensure city services are available to people of various documentation statuses, a said Thongnopnua.

Part of the office’s job will be to connect new residents to existing resources, as well as do things only the government can do, Thongnopnua said, such as helping to create identification for people who don’t. have not due to different life circumstances.

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