SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla --
SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla -- Four days and four nights, a young man from Kabul, Afghanistan, sits wide awake on the cold floor of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Hungry, thirsty and anxious, he has no idea what lies ahead. The only resources available to him are the few belongings that he could fit in his backpack and some MREs that were given to him by the U.S. soldiers standing guard. What was supposed to be a few days of travel turned into two months. However, a few short months is nothing in comparison to the journey he endured to get to this point.
Living in the capital of Afghanistan, Farmanullah Siddiqi was not a stranger to violence. He, his family and village lived under constant fear of terrorists. In fact, since the Soviet Union’s attack on Kabul in the late 70s, Siddiqi has lost several family members due to violence.
“I knew I wanted to be in the military since I was about nine-years-old,” said Siddiqi. My aunt’s husband was Special Forces, and I had always looked up to him. He was later killed by a suicide bomber, but that didn’t change my mind. I had told my dad that I wanted to go to the military academy, but he told me to wait until we got to America, where the military is treated better.”
In the meantime, Siddiqi decided to go to college. It was either that or sit at home like his mother and sister. Anything else was considered too dangerous, and his father wouldn’t allow it. However, even then, their safety could not be guaranteed.
In 2019, one of his uncles was killed by gun-fire. It was Siddiqi who took the phone call. He was notified that his uncle had been shot several times and was being transported to the nearest hospital. He ended up passing away just a few hours later.
“My uncle’s death was especially hard on my dad because he was much younger than my father,” said Siddiqi. “He was like a son in my dad’s eyes.”
After the incident, everyone in the family had gone to Siddiqi’s grandma to visit and provide comfort, everyone except for Siddiqi’s dad. Only after the grandmother’s demands did Siddiqi’s father come to visit. He came to her with red and restless eyes. He insisted that he would not sleep until he was able to find the men that killed his brother.
“It is our culture that if someone kills a family member, someone in your family is then expected to kill one of their people, and then you have to show up in front of your mom or dad after the deed is done,” said Siddiqi. “This expected responsibility was really hard on my dad. You see… my dad had a bad history with guns, and he did not like them. He had told me stories of him as a young boy, maybe four or five-years-old, and having to load magazines to run to his grandpa in the village as they were being attacked.”
However, the group members who caused this incident had already cleared out and left the village. Nobody knew where they were. Siddiqi and the rest of his family were at his home in Kabul, spending many sleepless nights, concerned that the group would come and attack Siddiqi’s home.
“I remember my cousin was showing me how to use the pistol and AK-47, and my dad walked in on us,” said Siddiqi. “He was mad, and I remember him saying, ‘There is a time and a place to use a gun, but if you go back there searching for it, I will shoot you by my own hand.’ From then on, I just went from college to home. I didn’t go anywhere else.”
Siddiqi’s dad worked at the U.S. Embassy and had applied for a United States visa in 2018. His dad had always been hesitant to request a visa because he feared for the safety of his family. However, after the incident in 2019, it became evident that this was the best way to keep his family safe. In 2020, Siddiqi’s family got approved, but departure was still ways away.
“When you apply for a visa, most of the village will find out,” said Siddiqi. “You have to get letters of recommendation, and they contact people to confirm that you are not someone that is going to cause any trouble. If Taliban or other terrorist groups find out that you are seeking a visa, they will kill you and your family.”
In August of 2021, the hostile climate in Afghanistan was rising. As the situation got worse, the United States expedited the visa process, and evacuated all of those who were approved. On August 17, 2017, Siddiqi’s family arrived at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. They departed on August 21, 2021, just five days prior to the infamous suicide bombing that took place on August 26, 2021.
“Prior to going to the airport, we had to burn everything,” said Siddiqi. “Pictures, maps, everything; we didn’t want to leave anything that could be traced to any family, friends, or other innocent people. If anything we left could be traced to others, they would be at risk of being killed.”
The plane left from Afghanistan to Qatar, where the passengers spent a couple of days before leaving on what was supposed to be a direct flight to America. However, the plane ended up stopping in Germany and remained there for 47 days.
“We slept on cots in tents that held around 900 people each,” said Siddiqi. “In total, there were about 4,000 of us. People would have to turn their cots to the side in order to get any privacy. I also remember how cold it was.”
Finally, they had received the news that they were going to get on an international flight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From there, they were transported to Virginia, where Siddiqi spent 25 days in temporary military housing. He then came to Saint Petersburg, Florida, where family-friends had already been living. Siddiqi went first, and then he and a friend traveled back out to Virginia to get the rest of his family.
Siddiqi comes from a large family of six kids, and both he and a few older siblings got jobs at local restaurants to help support himself and his family as they settle into their new lives. However, after taking a few month to settle in their new home, Siddiqi decided he was going to take the next step to try and pursue his dream.
“I remember sitting in class when I was younger, and the teacher asking the class what we all wanted to be when we grow up. Most said a doctor or an engineer, but I said that I wanted to be a soldier,” said Siddiqi. “They told me I was crazy and was going to be treated badly if I served in the Afghanistan military. I didn’t care though. I just wanted to help people.”
While in Afghanistan, Siddiqi never got his father’s approval to be in the military, but he remembered his dad saying, “Wait until we get to America.” Siddiqi held onto his dad’s words and made a point to talk with each branch of service during his travels to the United States. What he heard from each branch of service was that if he wanted to challenge himself, he should join the Marines. Soon after arriving in the United States, Siddiqi looked up the Marine Corps and put his information into the Marine’s request information page.
“I do not like war, but if there is war in Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan, I know the language; I know what I am capable of,” said Siddiqi. “I want to be the one to volunteer to go to those places. I want to be able to protect innocent lives against crime and cruelty.”
A few days later, Sgt. Alexander Diaz reached out as a Marine Corps recruiter with Recruiting Substation Saint Petersburg.
“Farman (Siddiqi) had information sent through an online request for someone looking for more info on the Marines,” said Diaz. “First meeting Farman, I could tell he was a knowledgeable young man who has a very hard time when it comes to the language barrier, but he and the translator helped a lot by asking the right questions and bringing all documents.”
While Siddiqi had hoped to become an officer, his main goal was to be a Marine. Learning that there would be a lot of difficulty getting his college education to transfer from Afghanistan, he decided to enlist. However, that would not come without a challenge.
“He definitely faced some challenges,” said Diaz. The language barrier affected his confidence and performance on the ASVAB. He failed the ASVAB the first time but came back with a lot of motivation. He studied very hard and passed 45 days later, increasing his score by more than 30 points.”
Since joining the Delayed Entry Program, Siddiqi has grown more confident and shown a lot of progress.
“He has been outstanding physically and mentally; he has also opened up to everyone,” said Diaz. “He is not quiet anymore, and he tells jokes all the time. He is ready for boot camp.”
“I was a very lucky man to have had the initial contact and be his recruiter,” said Diaz. “I feel that I have done for him what hopefully anyone else would have done. I listened to his incredible story and was able to help him every step of the way to not only be qualified to enlist, but also help him reach his ultimate goal in becoming a Marine. It has confirmed my perspective knowing that we are not here to meet a number; we're here to change lives and make success stories.”