USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea (NNS) -- 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 U.S. Navy.
The "Topcats" of VS-31 are assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, embarked aboard Stennis, and currently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations (AOO).
"I am absolutely thrilled and honored to be placed in that position of stewardship," said Khan.
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 has surpassed his ambitions of being a pilot: He not only flies jets almost daily near his native Pakistan, but he now commands an aviation squadron responsible for six aircraft and more than 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 University.
Although Khan said life was good in Pakistan, he made the decision to stay in the United States for college and eventually become an American citizen, a decision he does not regret. His decision to become a naval aviator, however, did not please everyone in his family at first, he said.
"My father initially was opposed to the idea of me joining the U.S. Navy because I am the oldest son," said Kahn. "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, he and his father have grown very close, 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, 2001, the terrorist attacks that day changed that completely.
"After Sept. 11, pretty much the entire American nation knew about Islam, and the image they had was 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. CVW-9, assigned to the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, entered the U.S. 5th Fleet AOO on Feb. 19 to conduct maritime security operations in regional waters, as well as to provide support for the International Security Assistance Force, comprised of more than 35,000 troops with contributions from 37 nations, on the ground participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.
"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," he said.
Khan said 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," he said.
After 20 successful years in the Navy, this day 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," he said. "I'm still having a lot of fun, and I don't see myself getting out anytime soon."
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/cusnc/.