This is part of Das Tor’s ongoing series, Voices of Thunderbird Veterans, a collaboration with the Thunderbird Veterans Club. In the series, Thunderbird students who are veterans share how their military service led to a global mindset.
One of the best feelings during a deployment is watching the replacement crews show up with big smiles on their faces and full of energy. One could see the jaded look fall off our faces as we packed up our flight gear and equipment after our final flight of the deployment. After debriefing, on a whim, my pilot asked if we would like to go check out the Afghan bazaar, a market where locals sold a plethora of different goods and wares, located just inside the base. I was on my sixth deployment and had never had the opportunity to go, so naturally I was excited to finally experience this. I did not have time to shower or change; I remember the smell of gunpowder and hydraulic fluid radiating off my flight suit as we squeezed into a beaten down crew van. I didn’t know what to expect as we drove through checkpoints. I just knew this would be the first time I would get to meet Afghani citizens, which made me nervous, excited, and other mixed emotions simultaneously.
As I walked through the Afghani bazaar, I was blinded by the sun reflecting off the shiny sand. The only shade available was from the bargaining tents or the smoke provided by a nearby burning pit, which blocked the sun intermittently. I stopped briefly to take a sip of water, which was barely cooler than the outside temperature, or so it seemed. Nonetheless, it was incredibly refreshing. I heard a sales pitch rise above the murmur of the crowd, which resembled the sounds of a school cafeteria, and a man by the name of Abdul Salaam welcomed me into his relatively small tent. As I walked in, I noticed several beautiful blankets displayed on the walls, resembling an art gallery. When I started my walk through the bazaar that day, I had no intention of purchasing any goods. I just wanted to witness and experience the local culture, but that plan began to change. I attempted to recall the small amount of cultural education I had, wishing I knew more about his culture. Abdul doesn’t know it, but that day changed me. Our interaction helped me realize I needed to pursue something I’m passionate about, which would help shape my future.
I found it interesting he wasn’t trying to make a quick sale, although a sale was his end goal. He educated me on the blankets he had to offer. Where and how each one was made, either in a factory or by a single person, how he acquired and transported them to different markets within the region. As he guided me through the tent, he encouraged me to touch each blanket as he described them in detail. I could feel the difference between machine and hand weaved, silky material to grainy or wool. I envisioned the supply chain and everything that must have happened for me to be touching such beauty. I couldn’t help but wonder throughout this encounter if Abdul was receiving any assistance to ensure he was maximizing his time and resources. Although I had a hunch, the answer to that question was no. Abdul was a small-time entrepreneur, and I could sense his passion; it was contagious. The small taste of this different culture is what made me want to find a gateway into other parts of the world. I found the idea of being part of a world that includes sustainable and equitable prosperity for individuals like himself appealing. At that time, I knew very little about where I would go next. I needed an education. I knew that a university with a business program would be an essential part of my future development plan.
I sat in the passenger seat, traveling a long and bumpy road that filled the air around us with dust. I replayed my encounter with Abdul in my head, over and over. At that moment, I finally felt my sense of purpose. I wanted to help build a future that would facilitate the success of international businesses and also one that could lift individuals out of poverty. I mentally prepared myself and made plans to pursue my education. When my 12 year military career was coming to an end, I found Thunderbird and instantly knew it was the perfect organization for me. I knew it would take dedication and a strong vision, which all seemed daunting at that moment. I made goals to build momentum, and I took a leap of faith when I separated from the military to pursue this program. I want to give back more than I receive, and feel a social obligation to become the best version of myself. This desire is what keeps my fire burning inside and fighting for progress on this path. I aspire to impact lives similar to the way Abdul inspired mine. I go to sleep every night with the blanket I bought that day, which helps me keep my perspective. Every morning when I fold that blanket, there is another opportunity to work towards my goals. To Abdul Salaam, wherever you are, thank you.