How a Pakistani girl secretly joined US Air Force to escape sure cousin marriage

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Hamna Zafar’s story is one of resilience, defiance, and the pursuit of individual dreams against the backdrop of familial and cultural pressures

Hamna Zafar poses for her engagement photos in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2019. Zafar escaped from this arranged engagement and later joined the US Air Force in 2022 as a security forces Airman. — US Air Force courtesy photo
Hamna Zafar poses for her engagement photos in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2019. Zafar escaped from this arranged engagement and later joined the US Air Force in 2022 as a security forces Airman. — US Air Force courtesy photo

At just the young age of 19, Hamna Zafar, a Pakistani American, faced the most critical juncture in her life  – succumb to an arranged marriage in Pakistan or chase her American dream.

The Maryland native, born into an immigrant family, had always been the obedient daughter, but her parents’ sudden insistence on an arranged marriage shattered her plans.

In 2019, during a seemingly ordinary family trip to Pakistan, Zafar discovered it was, in fact, her engagement party.

Airman 1st Class Hamna Zafar, 377th Security Forces Squadron Airman, uses the police radio during her patrol at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, August 17, 2023. — US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Karissa Dick
Airman 1st Class Hamna Zafar, 377th Security Forces Squadron Airman, uses the police radio during her patrol at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, August 17, 2023. — US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Karissa Dick

Stunned by the revelation and pressured into a commitment she didn’t choose, Zafar grappled with the cultural clash between her parents’ traditions and her aspirations.

Refusing to surrender her autonomy, Zafar hatched a daring escape plan, seeking refuge with a Navy recruiter and later finding solace with a college friend’s family.

Claudia Barrera, whom Zafar now calls mom, opened her home, providing the support needed for Zafar to complete her associate degree.

In 2022, Zafar took a bold step, enlisting in the US Air Force, where she now serves as a Security Defender.

Airman 1st Class Hamna Zafar, 377th Security Forces Squadron Airman, checks visitor identification at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, Aug. 17, 2023. As a security forces Airman, Zafar is tasked with installation patrol, installation access control and base defence alarm monitoring. — US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Karissa Dick
Airman 1st Class Hamna Zafar, 377th Security Forces Squadron Airman, checks visitor identification at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, Aug. 17, 2023. As a security forces Airman, Zafar is tasked with installation patrol, installation access control and base defence alarm monitoring. — US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Karissa Dick

The transition, however, brought its own set of challenges, as Zafar faced a culture shock during training, navigating a world where no one had ever raised their voice at her.

The petite and humble Air Force enlistee reflects on her journey, emphasising the importance of breaking free from societal expectations.

Zafar’s story is one of resilience, defiance, and the pursuit of individual dreams against the backdrop of familial and cultural pressures.



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