Baktash Ahadi: Serving the Greater Good

Baktash Ahadi is currently an instructor at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute where he teaches diplomats about Afghanistan. Baktash holds degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and from Susquehanna University. He is on the boards of the Susquehanna University Executive Alumni Board, Friends of Afghanistan, and the Yellow Breeches Educational Center. 

I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, but grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

My father’s life was put in danger by the Soviet-backed Kabul government after he refused to join the Communist regime. My family had to flee Afghanistan in a treacherous journey across the Hindu Kush Mountains while avoiding Soviet gunships and landmines. We spent two years in refugee camps in Pakistan before we were given sanctuary to live a life full of opportunity in America.

My family settled in Carlisle, a small town in Pennsylvania. What I liked most about my upbringing in Carlisle was that people immediately accepted my family and made us feel part of the community. They taught my parents how to drive, shop, and open up a bank account, and other activities that helped us function. My family was in a place where we could build and grow a life together. In short, we found a home, again.

Upon graduating, I signed up to serve in the Peace Corps in Mozambique because of the impact the Peace Corps had on my father and ultimately my family’s life. After contracting malaria twice and living without running water and electricity, my experience in Mozambique proved to be the best education of my life. As recognized by the Peace Corps and the Embassy of Afghanistan, I am the first Afghan-American returned Peace Corps Volunteer to date, which is an honor that truly humbles me.

After my Peace Corps service, President Obama announced the surge in Afghanistan in 2010. Once again, the call to serve presented itself and I was on a plane heading to Afghanistan to serve as an interpreter and cultural advisor for the US military. As an interpreter, my role was to bridge cultural divides among American soldiers, Afghan commandos, civilians, and insurgents. At times, I became the voice of both the Afghan and American military. I was honored to contribute to the victories of our missions, whether it was successfully clearing a village of insurgents or fulfilling my duty to Afghan helicopter pilots in training for our Afghan-led missions.

Serving America in the country of my birth proved to be one of the proudest and most valuable experiences of my life. I had the honor of serving alongside brave American and Afghan soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to bring peace to Afghanistan. I have since made it my moral obligation to continue to serve people and causes that matter most to me.

I returned to the U.S. with the goal of informing others about the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. I produced a number of award-winning documentary films, most notably Frame by Frame – a feature-length film about free speech and photojournalism in Afghanistan, which was a contender for an Oscar Nomination in 2015. I am currently working on producing the first ever documentary about Ahmad Zahir, a famous Afghan singer. He died in 1979, but his songs are still listened to in pretty much every Afghan household.

I am the living product of people who wanted to make a difference in the name of service. I’m dedicated to educating others to better understand communities in conflict. In addition to producing documentaries and advising Paramount Pictures on films about Afghanistan, I teach diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute on matters related to Afghanistan.

As someone who was born into war, whose family escaped war, then lived as refugees before coming to America and finally, who as an adult, decided to serve to resolve war, it means very much to me to serve the greater good to continue to make a positive impact.

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