An Airman’s Journey to Serve from Across the Globe

  • Published
  • By D.P. Heard
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

“I would like to highlight what the United States Air Force has done for me and my family,” is how Senior Airman Shelan Kaky, 55th Comptroller Squadron financial analysis technician, started a letter explaining how her journey led her to serving here.

Born in Baghdad in 1992 during the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, Kaky’s father served in the Iraqi Air Force as a radar systems engineer.

Just over ten years later as the U.S. joined with United Kingdom, Australia and Polish troops vowing to end the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Kaky and her family fled their home and headed for her grandparent’s in Khanakhen, Iraq.

Although the small Kurdish area was about three hours northeast of Baghdad, their journey was much longer. They had to hitchhike and sometimes walk across the desert trying to escape the war.

Once in Khanakhen, there was a small military base next to her grandparent’s house and it was here that she first encountered American soldiers. What impressed her was how kind they were to the kids.

“We communicated with the American soldiers, and they were super nice to kids and even shared their MREs with us,” Kaky said. “For my uncle’s wedding, they even shared in our joy and danced with us. I loved the American soldiers when I was a kid.”

Her family supported the American efforts and her brother served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army during OIF. She said it was especially difficult to watch stories of American Soldiers being slaughtered on local TV news. It was not something a kid should see, but it was reality and showed her the effects of war and how destructive it was.

Being of Kurdish descent, Kaky’s family remained in hiding at her grandparent’s house from 2003 on, but continued to live their lives the best they could. Throughout all the turmoil that engulfed her country, she kept up her studies and graduated in the summer 2010 from high school in Erbil, Iraq.

“My family had to run and hide and keep thriving, working, and I was still studying while the world was crumbling right before us,” she said. “When President Obama took all the troops out of Iraq, it was the worst it ever got with ISIS.”

In 2013, ISIS almost took control of Erbil, a town a few miles away from where they were living, bringing the war even closer to home.

“All I knew was war; it was always a reality for me to hear gunshots or hear horror stories of entire families being killed,” Kaky added. “The bad guys were free to hurt whomever they wanted.”

With ISIS so close, the family had to act quickly. Her father gathered them in a room in their home and sat them down for a talk. He developed a plan to make sure they wouldn’t be taken prisoners by ISIS. He spoke to them about what he felt was their inevitable end and devised a plan to commit family suicide.

“Thankfully, President Obama decided to send U.S. Forces to help us from the sky from the other side of the world, and the U.S. Air Force saved us,” Kaky said.

January 2015, after seven years from when they originally filed for asylum, her family finally made it through the process and was granted entry into the U.S. Along with starting a new life, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. She’s only been at Offutt Air Force Base for about two months and is already getting recognized by her leadership.

“I would describe Airman Kaky as motivated, excited to learn and ready to lead from the front. She has already volunteered to lead a Bridge Chat training session, organized a morale event, and is leading a physical training session,” said her supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Sarah Goucher, 55th CPTS financial analysis flight non-commissioned officer in charge. “She is an asset to her team and continues to impress me with her communication skills and enthusiasm for her work.”

The kindness of the American Soldiers was never forgotten by Kaky or her family. Her brother Logan Kaki, who was an interpreter for the U.S. Army, is now an immigration officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security in Kansas City, Missouri. He is very proud of her decision to serve in the Air Force.

“It is with tremendous pride that I observe my sister, who is actively serving in the military,” Logan said. “Our shared devotion to our nation’s service, whether in the realm of defense or governance, demonstrates our family’s longstanding commitment to the principles and values that our flag represents.”

Kaky ends her letter with; “What I am right now was not only through my efforts alone, but it was also a combined effort from my parents, brothers, sister, husband, daughter, and leadership. I usually do not share the details of my families’ story to many because it does cause sadness in the eyes of the people I care for. This story is only to share who I am and how I got to be here. I would like to stay with the Air Force and build my career and family around it. I am still indebted to the U.S. Air Force for all the good things it has done for my family and me.”