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    Pakistani-American Soldier Compelled to Serve in U.S. Army

    Pakistani-American Soldier Compelled to Serve in U.S. Army

    Photo By Lt. Kelli Roesch | Private First Class Usman "Zach" Khattak serves in the U.S. Army at a camp in Kuwait...... read more read more

    KUWAIT -- Private First Class Usman "Zach" Khattak feels like he has been put on this earth to serve others. As an Army Food Specialist with the 539th Transportation Division he helps serve thousands of meals every day to hungry men and women on their way to and from Iraq.

    As a Pakistani-American who fluently speaks six languages, he also serves as an unofficial interpreter to dozens of multi-national civilian workers at the dining facility and around the camp.

    "I'll do any task that is given to me, small or large. I'm happy to serve in whatever way I can to help the Army. Anywhere I'm useful, I'll do it," said the 41 year-old who now calls Chicago home.

    Pfc. Khattak enlisted in the U.S. Army two years ago because he felt the call "America" was directing at him. "I felt I should earn my American citizenship," he said. "I asked myself the question, "What right do I have to call myself an American if I don't do something for America? I could not say 'Thank you' enough to America, so I had to answer the call," he confided.

    Khattak became a U.S. citizen in July 2008 using the immigration policy that expedites citizenship to aliens after serving one year on active duty in the global war against terrorism.

    Although he was born and raised in Pakistan and moved to France as an adult, Khattak said, "The awareness of who I am was born in America. For me it's not important where you come from, it's what you do with your life that is important. It is what you achieve, what you become that speaks to the character of the man," he noted. Khattak is doing well in his career and has earned two Army Achievement Medals for superior performance of duty during a training exercise and for his work during the holidays, in addition to several certificates of appreciation.

    Pfc. Khattak spoke five other languages before he moved to the United States in 2000. He credits a famous Chicago talk show host for helping him pick up his sixth language. "I learned English from Oprah! I'm not saying I'm her biggest fan, but I learned so much from her show that helped me learn the language and other things about life," he joked.

    Besides English, he speaks Urdu and Punjabi spoken in Pakistan and India; Hindi, spoken in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh; Hindko, which is spoken in the mountainous areas of Pakistan near Kashmir; and French. In his free time he is also learning Arabic and Pashto by speaking to civilian workers on base, through movies, and through the Army's online language programs.

    One of his proudest moments while living in America was meeting then-Senatorial candidate Barack Obama as he campaigned in Khattak's Chicago neighborhood several years ago. "He asked me my name and how I was doing and shook my hand," he said. "I felt respected by Obama and appreciated him talking with working people like me."

    Khattak believes it is America's diversity that gives him strength. "America is not just black and white and Hispanic, it is full of colors [of people] of all shades," he said. "In uniform it makes no difference where you come from or your religion, we are all the same."

    Despite his positive attitude he also admits that, "being an outsider is sometimes a challenge," he admitted. "Some close-minded personalities may not have experienced another culture, but it's their problem, I'm over it," he said.

    The name Khattak is actually the name of the Pashto tribe his family belongs to in the North Western frontier of Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border. When he came to the document errors translated Khattak as his last name and it became permanent.

    Khattak has family that lives in Pakistan and as a male in his culture he is responsible for the care of his widowed mother and sister and her three children. It is a responsibility he takes very seriously. "I know I am ultimately accountable to God for my actions, so I cannot eat if my sister is hungry and I cannot rest if my mother is in pain," he said.

    For someone who serves everyone around him, he asks for surprisingly little in return. "I never really thought about what I want, other than to do my job to the best of my ability," he said.

    Even with his many contributions to his family, community and the United States, Khattak says he wishes he could serve in even greater capacities. "I made my 'America.' If I am able to help America do good anywhere, I will. Whether it is using my language skills or helping to build schools for children or hospitals, I want to make a difference for the benefit of the good cause," he said.

    Khattak is assigned the 539th Transportation Division stationed in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. His enlistment with the Army ends in July 2010.



    Date Taken: 05.13.2009
    Date Posted: 05.13.2009 04:40
    Story ID: 33541
    Location: KW

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