Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kareem R. Khan dies 'of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device'

Kareem Khan loved watching movies and playing video games. Disney World was his favorite place on Earth, and he could think of no better snack than a bowl of Starbursts.

But, Feroze Khan said, his 20-year-old son died doing something that he loved more than any of those things — being an American solider.

Khan, a Neptune Drive resident, was killed in Baqouba, Iraq, earlier this week when a blast destroyed a house that he was clearing with his Stryker Brigade combat team.

Three other members of Khan's team and an interpreter also were killed in the blast; 12 other soldiers were injured.

Khan enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating from Southern Regional High School in 2005.

“All he wanted to be was a solider,” Feroze Khan said. “It's something that just stuck with him, and we were behind him 100 percent.”
But Khan didn't want to be just any kind of solider.

“He wouldn't even discuss going into the Marines or the Navy, that never interested him,” said Khan’s stepmother, Nisha Khan. “It was his dream to be a solider in the Army.”

Khan's mother, Elsheba, lives in Columbia, Md.

Feroze Khan said his son never had a negative experience in Iraq being a Muslim in the U.S. Army.

Iraqi children even gravitated toward the always-smiling Khan when they would see his name.

“Kareem called me and told me this kid wouldn't stop following him around. But he didn’t mind,” said Feroze Khan, who proudly displays a picture in the family’s dining room of the Iraqi child hugging Khan.

Khan would regularly take gifts that were meant for him and share them with the Iraqi children.

But despite the name, Khan was as American as they come. His favorite football team, after all, was the Dallas Cowboys — “America's Team.”

That is why, his family said, Khan didn't complain when the Army extended his tour, which was supposed to end in June.

“The way he thought of it was that he was an American and he had a job to do,” Nisha Khan said.

Even though the military announced Thursday that Khan had previously received the Purple Heart for injuries in combat, the Khans said that was the first they had heard of it.

The Khans found out about his death at 9:30 Monday morning when three officers knocked on their door.

“I didn't want to let them in. I didn’t mean it to be rude, but I knew why they were here,” Nisha Khan said. “You see it on the movies, but you never know the emptiness that it brings until you see them for yourself. When they come, you know something is wrong.”

Khan was supposed to return to Fort Lewis, Wash., in September.

Khan's 11-year-old sister, Aliya, used to tease her brother by stealing Starbursts from him, but her favorite memory of her big brother was when she got to show him off to her class at Stafford Intermediate School.

“He came into my class to talk about what it was like to be in the Army,” Aliya said. “I was so proud of him.”

Diana Haggerty talked to Khan on Facebook just a couple days before his death.

“He wanted to know what all of his friends were up to,” said Haggerty, a close friend who graduated with Khan. “Kareem was just a really nice and outgoing person. If something was wrong, he would always do his best to find a way to fix it.”

Joe Hawk has been a friend of Khan's family for years and said he watched Khan grow from a little boy into a terrific man.

“I've been sick since it happened,” said Hawk, who said Feroze Khan told him about Khan’s death Monday morning. “The world is missing somebody special now. That’s for sure.”

Khan is the second former Southern Regional student to be killed in Iraq this year. First Lt. Gwilym Newman, a longtime Barnegat Township resident, was 23-years-old when he died April 12 of wounds he suffered from small arms in Tarmiyah, Iraq.

Khan is the sixth southern New Jersey soldier killed in Iraq in the past 10 months.

Khan will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia after a military ceremony on Aug. 16.

Typically, Muslim customs require people to be buried as soon after death as possible, but that didn't happen because Khan had to be brought back to the United States for burial.

“I think that Allah will understand this time,” Nisha Khan said. “Kareem was a good boy.”

From the Atlantic City Press