A young Indian national, Mahesh Guda who came to the United States to pursue undergraduate studies, but half-way into his programme joined the US Army and was deployed in Afghanistan, has been awarded the US Army's Commendation Medal for his efforts in that war-ravaged country.
Guda, 23, who is now deployed in South Korea, but at the time was serving with the 3rd Special Forces Group -- Airborne Division, told rediff.com that the "Commendation Medal was awarded in my service to my unit as an interpreter and in combat."
He said, "It was awarded by the Brigade Commander Col Mark Schwartz, but I was transferred by the time the award was processed. So they mailed it to Korea, my present unit, and they awarded it to me in a ceremony attended by my peers."
The Hyderabad-born and raised, Guda said, "I felt really proud and the award was a surprise. It was surprised because I worked without expecting any rewards."
He said, "My deployment in Afghanistan was quite interesting and I learned a lot of things while I was there -- most importantly the value of freedom and our safety that we take granted for in our homeland."
"I appreciated my life a lot more after experiencing Afghanistan," he added.
Guda, who came to the US in 2007 to do his bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering at Wichita State University in Kansas, and joined the US Army in 2009, said he had seized upon the opportunity to join the army when the opportunity arose because "I was really bored of the usual college life and really wanted to do something different and adventurous. And I did not want to lose the opportunity when I was offered to serve in the US Army."
He said, "I took it without a second thought," and explained that "it was a surprise too, because, if on day one I was thinking about what classes to register for the next semester, on day 16, I found myself in the woods of Fort Knox, Kentucky going through basic combat training. And since then life has been full surprises and adventures with overseas assignments. I entered the army as an enlisted soldier."
Asked what his future plans were, Guda said, "My future plans are to become an officer in the US Air Force and work my way to the position of a fighter pilot. After that, I intend to do my Masters and PhD."
But he said his "ultimate goal is to become an astronaut for NASA. All the experiences and jobs I have sought so far has only one reason behind them -- and that is to become an astronaut."
Speaking to the irony where here he was an Indian national joining the US Army and then being deployed in Afghanistan and engaged in combat and receiving a Commendation medal for his services, Guda said, "Me being Indian doesn't make any difference in whatever accomplishments I achieve. America is a very diverse country and anyone with dreams and hard work can achieve their goals -- that's the beauty of this nation. If you have the will-power and the right attitude to achieve something, there are, not just one, but several opportunities."
"Being an Indian-born, many people ask me how it feels to serve in the US military. I really dislike that question, it doesn't make sense. I serve for the good of the people -- it doesn't matter whose side you're taking, when you're against the same enemy," he argued.
Guda acknowledged that his parents were extremely concerned when they heard he had joined the US military and even more so when he was deployed to Afghanistan, because that was the last thing they expected of their son who had gone to the US to pursue and undergraduate degree.
"I didn't exactly tell my parents until I graduated from basic combat training," he said, adding, "I told them that I was going on an 'internship' for two months and won't be able to make phone calls for that time being. When I broke the new to them on my day of graduation from training, my mother was shocked. My father, though he was shocked and worried, calmly said, "Well, that is some interesting news and I hope and ask you tell us everything that you plan to do from now on. Don't just surprise us like this.'"
But Guda said, "My dad was proud, and mom was scared and proud at the same time. When I told them it was time for my turn to go to Afghanistan, it was really tough. I had to lie to them that it was a safe job and I won't be involved in much combat. And promised to call them everyday, which I did using satellite phone, every evening."
He said, "My parents (his father is in the farming business and his mother is a high school teacher) and two brothers have always been supportive about every decision I've made so far and they've been seeing the world through me because I video-chat with them everywhere I go. And they're definitely in relieved now that I got back from Afghanistan and came to Korea."
Guda said his constant advice to this friends was, "Embrace your fears and conquer them, for they're what that will make you stronger. Because without fear, you'll never know what's wrong with you."