SETARA: The student-pilot persisted

Setara in uniform.

Ever since she was 12 years old, growing up in rural Afghanistan, Setara knew she wanted to be a military pilot. “In my family, girls didn’t go to higher education. But when I was 16 years old, I told my father I wanted to go to university and join the military.”

Her family didn’t have much money so she had to find scholarships. “Not a problem,” thought Setara. “I’d always been top in my class.”

“I told them I wanted to join the military, but they discouraged me—because I was a girl. I said, ‘Never mind, just tell me where to go.’ “

After high school she went to Kabul where she had acquaintances in the military college. “I told them I wanted to join but they discouraged me—because I was a girl. I said, ‘Never-mind, just tell me where to go.’”

Setara sitting on blacktop

Setara walked an hour across town to seek out the military college admissions office. “They also discouraged me. But I was determined.” Finally, they agreed to let her take the written entrance exam. She passed. Then came the physical test. “I heard nothing for three months. Then finally, the phone range.

“I had passed! My father cried he was so happy.”

She spent four years at the military college, first, studying computer science before joining the Air Force to learn to fly. She spent six months in the classroom and in simulators, often with U.S. instructors. During the pandemic, most classes went online, but it was these personal connections that would end up saving her life.

In August 2021, the Taliban swept into Kabul and began looking for Afghans who worked for the government and the Ministry of Defense. Setara hid at home for a week.

 “I gave my neighbors money to buy and bring me food.” Then one day one of her American English teachers, Antonio Aranda, contacted her. He helped provide her with the papers needed to come to the U.S.

She quickly gathered a few things and went to the Kabul International Airport. She later learned that the Taliban searched her home the day after she left. That wasn’t the only close call. For three days she waited in the heat and chaos outside the airport before she could show her papers to the guard.

“An hour after I was let in, there was an explosion.” Outside the gate, a suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers and 170 Afghans.

Before finally arriving in Seattle, Setara and her family spent three months in at camp in Texas. There she volunteered with Save the Children who were distributing clothes and shoes to newly arriving Afghan families. It wasn’t the first time she used her position to help others. While in Kabul she also helped distribute books donated by some friends to local schools.

Today she is taking English classes at Highline College and is interested in returning to a career in aviation. Setara is nothing if not persistent.