In the two Command and General Staff College classes at Fort Leavenworth are 100 or so international students from countries around the globe.
But, history will be made by only one of them when he graduates Friday. He will increase what is called “the CGSC family of nations” by one country.
Maj. Hassan Shahid is a Special Forces officer from the Republic of Maldives, more commonly referred to as Maldives. One of his challenges this past class year has been explaining to practically everyone he met where Maldives is in the world.
Grammatically speaking, that should be “where the Maldives are,” as it is not one place as most countries. In fact, it is about 1,200 separate islands scattered across 19 atolls in the Indian Ocean about 200 miles south of India, its closest neighbor.
Of that many islands, only 190 are inhabited. No island is more than five square miles in area, and the highest elevation is six feet above sea level. If it was ever invaded, there would be no “high ground” to take or hold anywhere.
Although the first from his country to attend CGSC, he’s been to Army courses in the U.S. before. He was the honor graduate at the Infantry Basic Course at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2002, and on the commandant’s list back there for the Captains’ Career Course in 2006.
He’s also been to Special Forces seminars in Hawaii and Florida, and attended a naval course at Great Lakes Naval Base.
He’s been in this area unaccompanied, leaving his wife and three small children behind in Male, the capital city. His time here has been good for him. He arrived last year as the deputy commander of Maldives Army Special Forces, but on returning home next week he’ll be the new commander. The military is so small neither the World Almanac nor CIA World Factbook says how many soldiers serve.
So, how has he enjoyed his year?
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of the course and being in Leavenworth,” he said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount from instructors and from my fellow students. I was in a very helpful staff group where everyone assisted each other with their special knowledge.
“I particularly enjoyed the strategic studies track. I also completed a master’s of military art and science, which I’m very proud of. And, there is a saying we hear constantly at CGSC, that ‘it is the best year of your life.’ While that may be going too far, I certainly count it in the top three years of my life.”
He has no idea when a second student from Maldives will come to CGSC, but I have no doubt he’ll be pushing for it at every opportunity.
He has no problem with English, and although the official language in Maldives is Dhivehi, a dialect of Sinhala, a script derived from Arabic, most government workers are fluent in English. It didn’t hurt that he attended a course at Sandhurst, the British West Point.
Since his country is so small, there is no U.S. Embassy there, so all his arrangements to come to Leavenworth were done at the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, a tiny country several hundred miles away.
But, he got here OK, and the embassy in Sri Lanka will get him home.
One of my unstinting duties as a sponsor of an international student is to take him to my favorite local restaurant, The Towne Pub, for a delicious pan fried catfish. Since the fish catch in Maldives is 94,953 metric tons annually, a major industry in the islands, I was a bit apprehensive about how he’d like a Kansas fish farm grown product.
He must have been away from Indian Ocean fish too long, for he declared the Leavenworth product “superb.”
That’s music to the ears of Sharon Kirby, the Pub’s co-owner. I have yet to hear a disparaging word about the Pub’s catfish. I think we’ve made another friend.