Born into the Hazara Tribe, the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, 4-year-old Sher Najafy and his family had to flee from Afghanistan to Pakistan because of the menacing Taliban threat in 1990. So began the life journey of now U.S. Army Capt. Sher Najafy.
“When my family and I moved to Pakistan it was the end of the Soviet Union occupation and the Taliban started to become powerful, so families began migrating to Iran, Europe, Turkey or Pakistan,” Najafy said. “I remember going through the Taliban checkpoints. I was part of Hazara Tribe, the minority tribe, so it was not safe because of the genocide against my tribe. That is why my parents decided to move to Pakistan.”
Najafy and his family spent the next ten years living in Quetta, Pakistan, waiting for the Afghanistan civil war to be over. After 9/11 occurred and the Americans began dismantling the Taliban, his family decided to return to his hometown of Ghe Ghanto in the Ghazni province. A dedicated student, he earned his high school diploma at the age of 16, a significant achievement in Afghanistan considering UNICEF reports only 20 percent of the Afghan population had earned their diploma at that time.
Diploma in hand, Najafy decided to move to the country's capital, Kabul. While there he joined the Afghanistan National Army and six months later, he became a transportation officer, still just 16. As a transportation officer he worked with the Central Movement Agency where he interacted regularly with American military learning and becoming proficient in English.
"We shared an office with the American military. I worked with the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army and I learned English pretty quickly." Najafy said. "We would do convoys together and eventually; I worked as a translator at meetings."
Najafy served almost four years in the Afghan Army, but his work with the Americans made him want to enlist into the American Army.
In 2009, Najafy immigrated to the United States and got his green card. Living in Sterling Heights, Michigan, he began taking classes at Macomb Community College. He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2010 as a supply specialist.
"I started out enlisted as a 'Private Fuzzy' [Nickname for lowest Army rank] and I was able to pass my Army fitness training test and I had some college credits, so I was promoted to Private First Class before shipping to basic training. When I was in boot camp, I applied to become an American citizen," said Najafy. "Six months later, after the advanced Individual training, I became an American citizen."
After earning his American citizenship in 2011, Najafy decided he wanted to go to college. He enrolled at the University of Michigan and became a member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and received a scholarship. Najafy was commissioned as a Military Intelligence officer in 2015 when he graduated from Michigan.
The now 34-year-old Najafy has had assignments to European Command's Intelligence Directorate in Stuttgart, Germany, and the National Ground Intelligence Center, Charlottesville, Virginia. Today, he assigned to USSOCOM's Joint Military Information Support Operations Web Operations Center working as an all-source, intelligence analyst.
Najafy's mother, who has lived with her son since 2018, attended his recent promotion ceremony to captain and cried with pride.
A co-worker, Christopher Fridley, Deputy Branch Chief for the Intelligence Information Operations Cyber Branch, wondered what his mother thought about her son's remarkable life.
"Think about this – sometime during the 1990s, Afghanistan was in complete civil war, you're driving a beat-up old car through the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan with your children who are all probably under the age of 10. Your husband cannot come with you, he must meet you in Pakistan because if the Taliban find military aged males, they're getting involuntary recruited. You get stopped at a Taliban check point just before the Pakistan border; the guards yell at you, ask you where your husband is, probably don't like you because you're female. The guards are probably waving their AK-47s back and forth; you don't know what's going to happen next; your children are in such danger. Finally, after a brief scare and arguing, you're allowed to pass, then off to Pakistan.
"Now fast forward to 2020. That same child who rode with you in the back of your beat-up old car is now standing in a theater getting recognized, promoted, and swearing an oath as an officer and captain in the strongest Army in the world. You see your son standing up there, chest sticking out, proud to be a captain in the United States Army! Not only that, this 'once upon a time little kid from Afghanistan' is pursuing his master's degree in Intelligence from the prestigious National Intelligence University. Her pride must be immense," Fridley said.
Reflecting on his journey to American citizenship Najafy sums it up by saying "For me it's a big deal and I have been working in the U.S. for about 12 years now. Earning the rank of captain in the U.S. Army was not easy. It's been hard work. It's been a journey throughout my enlisted and officer career. I have had great mentors and colleagues along the way. I'm living my American Dream. For some it may be a million-dollar house, but for me this was always my dream to serve in the U.S. Army as an officer as long as possible."