Joining, training, deploying: Immigrant Airman comes 'full circle'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Paul R. Evans
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center
Senior Airman Bassel Noori is deployed for the first time to Ali Air Base, Iraq. In a way, he says it's like coming full circle with his origins.

"This is the first time I have taken a trip outside the United States, other than Canada, since I immigrated in 1995," Airman Noori said. "From where my life began to coming here -- it has been a complete turnaround."

Airman Noori, from the 6th Mission Support Group at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., is a Lebanese immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria, a Muslim and a contingency skills-trained Airman fighting in the Global War on Terrorism. He is, as he stated from Iraq, "Happy to be here, proud to serve!"

His life has had many twists and turns. Airman Noori immigrated to the United States in August 1995 with his Afghani father, Lebanese mother and younger sister and settled in Grand Rapids, Mich. For Airman Noori, he recalled it as "huge culture shock," but has overcome one thing after another.

"My biggest struggle was with education," Airman Noori said. "As a sophomore in high school, I didn't have a language barrier -- I could speak English. The struggle was with the attitude that American students have with their education -- some took it seriously, and others didn't, and to me that was shocking. As a Muslim, the Quran teaches us that education is extremely important because Allah (God) wants us to be able to read and interpret the Quran and write in our native Arabic language. Therefore, education was taught with a certain strictness that isn't the same in America."

In his junior year of high school, Airman Noori said he was more comfortable with the American way of life and became very active in extra-curricular activates such as the French, Spanish and Drama clubs. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was studying at Western Michigan University when the terrorist attacks took place. He remembers the time vividly and the fear that came with it.

"My father got a lot of flak at work for being Muslim," Airman Noori recalls. "They called him a variety of derogatory names for being Middle Eastern. It was very hard for him but he encouraged me to continue on."

The fear generated from the attacks created stereotypical beliefs about Middle Eastern people, Airman Noori said. But he believed it was important to change those beliefs.

"It was more important for me to show that not all Muslims or Middle Easterners are terrorists -- I had to set a good example to others like me," Airman Noori said.

Despite receiving harassment from classmates, hearing negative reports and stereotypes from the media and general public, Bassel Noori committed to his decision to continue the process for U.S. citizenship. In May 2002, he exchanged his Lebanese citizenship and swore his allegiance to the United States as a new American.

Airman Noori said his patriotism and love for the United States further spawned a desire to give back to his country and that was when he decided to join the Air Force in 2005. He talked about his parents' reaction to him becoming an Airman.

"My parents were apprehensive at first," Airman Noori said. "They are now in full support of my decision because the Air Force has allowed me to continue my education in computer information systems. Plus, I get to help fight the Global War on Terrorism."

Reflecting on his Afghani origin, Airman Noori said his father has lost contact with some of his family back in Afghanistan. Even though some of them had fled Afghanistan to Iran to escape the Taliban, Noori said he has other family members who are reported missing due to the Taliban oppression.

"It's another reason why I am in the Air Force and deployed right now," Airman Noori said. "I want to show no matter where you come from you can make a difference by doing something that's larger than yourself. For me, it is serving in the Air Force and being deployed."

Prior to deploying, Airman Noori trained in the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's Advanced Contingency Skills Training Course in August prior to his deployment. He said he came to the course unsure of what he was going to learn and initially was nervous about his deployment. That all changed when he graduated.

"Having gone through the course was a highlight in my Air Force career," Airman Noori said. "The training I received in ACST has helped me feel more confident and prepared to expect the unexpected. This is a war zone and I feel that I at least have a basic knowledge of how to react to certain situations and potentially save a life, including mine."

In ACST, Airman Noori learned convoy operations, patrolling and tactics, combat first aid, self defense, military operations in urban terrain and cross-cultural awareness. All of the training, he said, made him a better Airman for this momentous deployment in his career.

"I think it did make me a better Airman," Airman Noori concluded. "Thankfully, I have not been in a situation thus far that requires me to apply combat first aid out on the battlefield. I haven't had to engage an enemy in Brazilian Jiujitsu. However, I can see how any situation on or off base can easily turn into a potentially life threatening one, in which I will have to apply some, if not all of the concepts that I learned in ACST."

Airman Noori said that now he's deployed, he's glad he has made the decisions he did throughout his life. And, he added he is learning more about the world he knew before America.

"The first month of my deployment coincided with the month of Ramadan." Airman Noori said. "When I went to the chapel, it was good to see a mix of Muslims all praying together, knowing that all of them are united in a common goal in the GWOT. I've seen Air Force and Army Muslims and Department of Defense civilians, contractors, and translators who are Muslim. It's good to see all those folks, like me, who are doing their part in fighting against the ideologies our enemies hold."

Whether it's been life experiences, training or deploying, Airman Noori said he is most thankful to see everyone together working toward a common goal.

"We are all in this together, going through the same stresses, frustrations and thrills," Airman Noori said. "I've enjoyed meeting with folks who share my ethnicity and religion, but it's not about that. It's about why we're here -- bringing freedom to people who deserve it and want it."

(Editor's note: Airman Noori is deployed with the 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Ali AB.)