From refugee to Reserve Citizen Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Taylor Davis
  • 442d Fighter Wing Public Affairs
In a new country, forced into a completely different way of life, could you make the most out of a seemingly bad situation?

For Lt. Col. (Dr.) Shahin Etebar, this was a challenge he was willing to accept.

“Failure was not an option,” said Etebar, a flight surgeon and the 476th Aerospace Medical Dental Flight commander at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. “It was either sink or swim, and I’ve carried that mindset with everything.”

Etebar, originally from Iran, was forced to flee to the United States with his family in 1979.

“We came [to America] and we lost everything,” said Etebar. “We went from living in a large house with multiple cars to the four of us living in a one-bedroom apartment. We had to make it work.”

As a neurological and spine surgeon and an officer in the Air Force Reserve, Etebar has indeed made it work, as he’s accomplished a lot. His accomplishments, however, did not come without challenges.

During his first session with a counselor in college, Etebar was asked about his goals. Telling his counselor that he wanted to be an Air Force pilot or a physician, she was anything but supportive. Still unable to speak English fluently and without a green card, Etebar’s counselor predicted that he wouldn’t get into medical school or the Air Force.

“One thing about my personality is that I never take no as an answer,” said Etebar. “When I have a goal in mind, I just keep at it until it happens.”

Etebar, is now a successful neurosurgeon, owns a private practice, is chief of medical staff, and has a family of his own.

Throughout all this success, he said he still felt as if something was missing.

“I was reassessing my life to see what I had wanted to do that I hadn’t done,” said Etebar. “The one thing I thought of was joining the Air Force.”

“I take care of a lot of wounded warriors, and through their families, I got a tour of Twentynine Palms,” said Etebar. “I was so impressed by these kids, the same age as my own, and they were willing and ready to go out and put their lives on the line.”

With his sights set on joining the Air Force Reserve, he said he had to get in shape and lose weight. He officially joined one week before the cut off age of 38.

Originally commissioned as a neuroscientist, Etebar said he had the opportunity to retrain and become a flight surgeon. He finished his courses in April 2018 and was assigned to Moody AFB in August.

Since arriving at Moody, his focus has been on building a good fitness program and making sure the active duty and Reserve relationship is strong.

“Before even coming into the unit he was really big on total force integration and he was already working to build that relationship with the active duty,” said Senior Master Sgt. Felicha Horton, the superintendent of aerospace flight medicine with the 476 AMDF. “Before, there wasn’t an existing relationship and now there are about three medical reservists working on their seasonal training within the active duty medical squadron.”

Etebar, much like any commander, has short term and long-term goals for Moody. As far as short-term goals, he hopes to recruit at least one more flight surgeon to the base. He said he also plans to solidify a physical fitness preventative or maintenance program to help decrease injuries such as back problems seen at Moody.

“Long term, I want our unit to perform as best as possible and be one of the best units out there,” said Etebar. “I think there’s a lot of tremendous amount of potential due to the kind of people we have in the unit which is one of the reasons I came [to Moody].”

Using his life as a testament, he advises everyone to keep going and never give up.

“The difference between winning and failing is the winners always get up and try again,” said Etebar.