First Muslim to Command an Aviation Squadron in US Navy
By Lt. Nathan Christensen


Cmdr. Muhammad Muzzafar F. Khan

Cmdr. Muhammad Muzzafar F. Khan relieved Cmdr. Timothy Langdon as Commanding Officer of Sea Control Squadron (VS) 31 during a ceremony held at sea aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) May 13. Khan is the first Muslim to take command of an operational aviation squadron in the US Navy. The “Topcats” of VS-31 are assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, embarked aboard Stennis, and currently deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of operations (AOO).
“I am absolutely thrilled and honored to be placed in that position of stewardship,” said Khan. “It’s an honor and a tremendous feeling.”
As a child in Pakistan, Khan grew up around aviation. His father served in the Pakistani Air Force for 21 years and then flew commercial airplanes for 24 years. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “There is a Naval Aviation Museum poster with a little boy holding a toy airplane and looking up at the sky. That little boy was me.”
Some 40 years later, Khan does not just have ambitions to be a jet pilot; he is one. Not only does Khan fly jet airplanes almost daily near his native Pakistan, but also, he now commands an aviation squadron responsible for six aircraft and over 200 personnel.
Khan came to the United States from Pakistan in 1981 to live with his aunt in Texas. His goal was to learn to fly, as well as earn a degree from North Texas State. Although Khan said life was good in Pakistan, he made the decision to stay here in the United States during college and become an American citizen, a decision he does not regret. “I am 100 percent American. I bleed red, white and blue,” said Khan.
He not only remained in the United States and became an American citizen, but decided to become a naval aviator Khan’s decision, however, did not please everyone in his family at first, he said. “My father initially was opposed to the idea of me joining the US Navy because I am the oldest son. My father wanted me to return home and follow in his footsteps and fly with the airlines for him. So, when I told him I was joining the Navy, he wasn’t initially happy.”
Since then, his father and him have grown very close over the years, sharing the common bond and passion for aviation.
Khan’s younger brother even followed his example joining the navy as a P-3 pilot, and is currently stationed in Whidbey Island, Wash.
In 2004, Khan was selected to enter the command-at-sea pipeline and became VS-31’s executive officer shortly thereafter. Khan was competing for one of two spots against 32 candidates, he said. “The fact that I was selected for command after Sept. 11 is a good indication that the Navy is an equal opportunity organization and that we don’t discriminate on race, religion or color,” said Khan. While many Americans may not have known much about Islam prior to Sept. 11, the terrorist attacks in New York City changed that completely.
“After Sept. 11, pretty much the entire American nation knew about Islam and the image they had is not the right one,” said Khan. I read an article, which I believe to be true, that Islam was basically hijacked. “The Islamic teachings were turned around or taken out of context so that they could be used for political gain and to incite violent behavior. Suicide and killing innocent people is strictly forbidden in Islam.”
Khan is flying missions over Afghanistan as part of CVW-9 to bring stability and security to the region and help defeat the Taliban who incite extremism. CVW-9, assigned to the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, entered the US 5th Fleet area of operations (AOO) Feb.19 to conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in regional waters, as well as to provide support for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops on the ground there participating in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
“As far as the mission is concerned, I hope and wish the same things I wish for my fellow Americans; I hope there’s peace, I hope there’s stability, I hope for all people in the region that they can go to the market as freely as I can and let their children play on the street or get a job and be able to provide for their family,” said Khan, as he flies missions in support of ISAF, which is comprised of more than 35,000 troops, with contributions from 37 nations.
“That is what my hope is – that in the end there will be stability and everyone will be able to enjoy the same freedoms that I enjoy in the United States.”
Khan said that while flying missions over Afghanistan from Stennis, he flies over Pakistan and catches a glimpse of his native country. “It is awesome to look down to be able to see Pakistan knowing I lived 18 years of my life there.”
After 20 successful years in the Navy, today marks the pinnacle of his career as he assumes command at sea. However, Khan has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
“I have completed 20 years and I absolutely love the Navy. I’m still having a lot of fun and I don’t see myself getting out anytime soon,” he said. “I love it, I enjoy it and I feel extremely honored and privileged to be an American and serving in the United States Navy. Knowing what I know now, I would not change anything about my decision to join the Navy.”
Asked what he hopes to achieve down the road in terms of his career, Khan smiled. “The sky is the limit,” he said, suggesting a desire to become the first Muslim admiral in US Navy history.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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