By Susan VanBoening
When U.S. Army Capt. Mohammed Hossain talks about his “dreams,” you sense the gratefulness in his voice and sincerity in his words. When Hossain, a native of Bangladesh and the Oklahoma City MEPS assistant operations officer, tells you his story, you sit in awe of his humble and relentless devotion to his goals and gratitude to the United States of America. His story is the American dream.
Born and raised in a small village in southwest Bangladesh, Hossain was from a traditional farming community. The Hossain family included two parents, four siblings and a large extended family that made their livelihood growing crops and raising animals. Hossain attended local schools and thrived in the classroom, eventually completing a master of laws (LL.M) degree from Dhaka University.
“I was planning to be a judge in Bangladesh, that was always my dream,” he said. “I was already in the process where I had taken my exams to qualify, and I was selected for the Bangladesh Air Force to be a legal officer.”
“But my life changed all of a sudden.”
In 2003, amid a successful law career, the then 26-year-old Hossain received a letter in the mail from the U.S. Government. Upon opening, he was shocked by what he was reading.
Over a year earlier, Hossain applied for the diversity visa lottery with little thought of being selected. He was chosen for the program that would grant him a green card to come to the United States.
“I was so surprised,” he said with a chuckle. “I forgot that I applied for the lottery program.”
The decision to leave home proved to be more difficult than anticipated.
“It was a very tough decision because I had a good career in Bangladesh and had a good future there,” he said. “I was practicing law in the Bangladesh Supreme Court and getting ready for the government services to be part of the judiciary system.”
The appeal of the land of opportunity couldn’t be dismissed. He knew what America offered extended beyond himself.
“The U.S. is the number one country in the world, everyone has a dream to come here,” he said. “The situation was that I might have a good life in Bangladesh, but the rest of my family ... I knew if I went to the U.S., they could have a chance to eventually come too and live a better life. This gave all of us a chance at dreams.”
Welcome to America
The process of immigrating to America didn’t include any hand-holding.
“I didn’t know anyone or anything about the U.S,” he said. “I was confused about where to go or who was going to take care of me. You get the green card and everything else depends on me.”
With uncertainty of where to go, Hossain was at the mercy of the kindness of fellow Bangladeshi immigrants already in the U.S. Luckily for Hossain, a friend of a friend from law school had come to the states on the same visa program a few years earlier. Before leaving Bangladesh, the mutual friend spoke to Hossain over the phone and offered to pick him up from the airport when he arrived in New York City.
Upon arrival at JFK airport, Hossain was hit with culture shock and coming to terms with leaving his old life behind and being truly alone for the first time. However, the land of the free did not disappoint when he stepped on American soil on Valentine’s Day, 2004.
“New York was a dreamland,” he said with great pride. “It was everything that I imagined. I felt like my dream had come true.”
The euphoria of the dream was short-lived for Hossain as reality set in. The friend who picked up Hossain worked out an agreement with another Bangladeshi family where he could rent a room from them in Queens, N.Y. For Hossain, the financials were tight, to say the least.
“I had $300 in my pocket when I came to the U.S.,” Hossain recalled with vivid clarity. “At the end of the month, I had to pay $400 to stay in that house.”
“I woke up the following day, and the first thing I did was I went to find a job.”
By day four in the U.S., he was working in an Indian restaurant. The restaurant was fraught with intolerance and disrespect toward minority employees. Hossain stuck it out for two weeks until he secured a position at another restaurant responsible for maintaining the salad bar in the early part of the day. This routine continued for a short time and allowed him to acclimate to his new land.
After three months in America, Hossain began looking for additional employment. He connected with a hiring manager at a pizza chain in Queens and was hired as a pizza maker. After six months, Hossain was made assistant manager. But he had bigger dreams in mind, both for himself and to support his family in Bangladesh.
“My goal is to be a lawyer.”
With his dream at the forefront of his thoughts, in 2005, the educated Bangladeshi lawyer started taking courses at a Tuoro Law College in metro New York. He only needed 27 credits to make his dream of becoming an American lawyer a reality.
Then a chance encounter changed everything.
Meeting Mr. Tony
Hossain remembers it was a Tuesday when Mr. Tony, a U.S. Army recruiter dressed in civilian clothes, strolled into the pizza shop in Queens.
“Mr. Tony came to Domino’s to pick up one of the girls that was working a shift with me,” he recalled. “He was asking me if she was there because he was going to take her to the ASVAB at New York MEPS.”
Next, the recruiter turned his attention to Hossain, asking him what he did and why he worked there. Then he asked Hossain if he wanted to join the military.
Hussein shared his background story. Mr. Tony stopped in his tracks.
“He looked at me and said, ‘you have a master of law degree and you’re working at Domino’s Pizza? Hey man, you can come into the military and be an officer.’”
The recruiter explained the enlistment process and opportunities. Hussain’s interest spiked. He liked the idea of having an expedited path to citizenship, a requirement to become an officer in the United States military.
Mr. Tony advised Hossain to take some time to think about taking the ASVAB exam to enter the military. The Army recruiter suggested giving himself a month to read and think about the opportunities the military had to offer.
With America in two wars and Hossain motivated to achieve his dreams, he knew he had to take the recruiter’s proposition as soon as possible.
“I knew the war was going on, but I was not scared,” he said. “I was desperate to get out of odd jobs. And so ... I thought about the opportunity to take the test when he was talking to the girl, and I said, ‘Mr. Tony, I can take this exam today. I’m confident I can pass.’”
Hossain called his manager and said he needed to leave to take a test for the military “right now.” The Army recruiter’s offer for a ride with his coworker to MEPS to take a test that would change his life was too valuable of an opportunity to pass up. The manager arrived 15 minutes later.
“I jumped in the car with the girl and Mr. Tony and he took me to the New York City MEPS.”
That same day, Hossain passed the ASVAB with flying colors. The following day, Wednesday, he got the all-clear on his physical and background check. By Thursday of the same week, Mohammed Hossain - Bangladeshi lawyer, American immigrant, law student and Domino’s Pizza assistant manager - took the Oath of Enlistment for the U.S. Army.
Everybody was yelling
In order to complete his semester of law school, recruit Hossain took part in the delayed entry program. On Jan. 18, 2006, Hossain traveled south from Queens, N.Y., to basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., and culture shock was in store.
“On day one, when I was coming out of the bus, the drill sergeant started yelling at me, ‘what are you doing on my bus,’ I was surprised how the reception went,” Hossain said through laughter, now thinking back.
“I thought, ‘this is not my world. I have made a grave mistake in my life.’”
Hossain’s panic and remorse lingered while in boot camp. He did not fully understand the structure and culture of the U.S. Army or even what food he should eat. Using a common shower with other soldiers was very new to him.
“This was a different world, everybody was yelling, no one talked to me,” he explained. “There was no introduction. I thought to myself, ‘I want to be a lawyer, what am I doing here.’”
The physical fitness aspect of boot camp proved to be just one component of difficulty for the recruit. He struggled initially, based on not fully knowing what would take place in initial entry training.
Of everything Hossain experienced at boot camp, he recalls his three platoon sergeants and their roles in his life with absolute clarity. One drill sergeant had ill intentions towards Hossain, but the other two shone like stars in his memory.
“Two drill sergeants somehow loved me and they started helping me on every step,” he said. “They briefed me separately. They helped me out. So for the rest of my life ... I thank those two guys.”
“When I was moving under the fire in basic training, the drill sergeant got down and said, ‘I’ll crawl with you, no worries, don’t be scared.’”
For Hossain, alone, singled out and ignored at boot camp, this example of kindness left the imprint of what a true Army leader does.
“It changed my whole concept, there are some rude people there, but some good leaders will help you throughout your career,” he said. “There’s a lot of help left and right. We just have to ask for the right people.”
Boot camp graduation came and went. Hossain was filled with great pride and relief as he headed to advance individual training (AIT). There he excelled. His skillset in studying law allowed him to master his coursework. He scored 100 percent on almost every exam he took at AIT.
The Soldier also saw growth in the area he initially struggled with the most – physical fitness. He improved the pushups. He improved the run. He struggled with the sit-ups. But the day before AIT graduation, he finally passed the sit-ups.
The Soldier’s life begins
By late 2006, Hossain arrived at his first duty station, Fort Polk, La. His platoon sergeant greeted him and shared the news that deployment was on the horizon.
“He says to me, ‘hey did you bring everything with you from basic training? We will deploy, and I need to ensure you have everything and are ready to go.’ I was like, ‘I have no idea what you mean by everything. I literally have nothing.’” They deployed to Iraq.
During his first deployment, the dream Mr. Tony promised in that pizza shop in Queens finally came true.
“Camp Arifjan, Kuwait in 2007, I got my citizenship,” Hossain said.
Asked to describe that moment, he paused, then exhaled exuding pride and relief.
“I mean, wow, it was such a proud moment for me,” he said. “It was like getting a huge award. I now have access to everything. I was so proud. It opened a new window to me. I was so grateful.”
“And I was still thinking, how I was going to submit my OCS packet.”
Officer Candidacy School bound
After becoming a citizen, Hossain remained focused on when he could submit his OCS packet. However, facing back-to-back deployments, his leadership explained doing so would be challenging. Reenlistment followed during his second deployment in July 2009 to Baghdad, Iraq.
Upon returning from deployment and having a permanent change of station to Fort Meade, Md., the window of opportunity he had long waited for finally arrived. He submitted his OCS packet in 2011 and was selected in 2012.
The early experiences from boot camp prepared the now-seasoned Soldier to persevere. He knew challenges he faced at OCS would get easier over time.
“When I went to OCS, it was like coming back to basic training again,” he chimed. “It was a hard time at OCS. But I kept thinking, ‘no, keep pushing, I’ll get this.’”
Along the way, Hossain acknowledged each moment was part of the vision he had of his new life in America when he stepped off the plane eight- years earlier at JFK airport. He graduated from OCS Aug. 23, 2012, and was finally a commissioned officer in the United States Army.
Yet again, his dream had come true.
“I was so happy... I cannot explain how happy I was,” he said.
Since receiving his commission as a second lieutenant, Adjutant General’s Corps, Hossain has successfully completed tours in South Korea, 2013-2015, Fort Jackson, S.C., 2015-2017, and Fort Stewart, Ga., 2017-2019, which included a nine-month deployment to Kuwait.
Along the way, other dreams have come to fruition, including marriage, two children born in 2009 and 2014, and a home in South Carolina.
And he never forgot the family he left behind in Bangladesh.
“My family came and settled in upstate New York,” he beamed. “Only one sibling is still left in Bangladesh.”
Dreams to come
The Oklahoma City MEPS assistant operations officer since 2019, Hossain knows his journey isn’t traditional. He embraces any chance he gets to share his story.
“It is my honor and pleasure to work with young kids who are coming into the military,” he said. “I see immigrant kids who are joining the military. When they see me, they get inspired. They ask me questions and I share my story.”
Fifteen years after coming to America and living the American dream that movies are made of, Hossain humbly reflects on all he’s accomplished.
“I am truly proud to serve in the U.S. Army,” he said. “It’s a great honor and pleasure to work in the foremost fighting force in the world. I learn every day. I love my job and want to continue my service as long as I can.”
“This is the opportunity that I got to improve my life.”
Still, he has more aspirations to come.
“Law school is the final dream,” he said with absolute certainty. “After I eventually retire, I will endeavor to return to my original profession in Bangladesh. I’m going to practice law.”
We have no doubt.