SACRAMENTO, Calif. – U.S. Army Pfc. Muhammad Fayzan Izhar is so new to the California Army National Guard, some Soldiers in his unit don't know who he is.
He's fresh off U.S. Army initial training and his uniform is months-old. His total military service is weeks-old. Izhar is so new, he hasn't saluted at least a dozen Cal Guard officers yet.
But the Pakistan native's career is off to a critical start. The past few weeks, Izhar has been one of Cal Guard's much-needed warriors who are assisting the Northern California community in the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March, Izhar's battleground is a Sacramento food bank warehouse. He's either packing boxes, moving pallets, monitoring inventory or loading and unloading delivery trucks.
"I have learned and experienced the feeling of satisfaction being a part of National Guard in the COVID-19 fight," said Izhar, 25. "The biggest thing I've learned is that with the help of God, organizations like the National Guard and amazing people all around the world that are helping in our fight with this vicious virus, we are impregnable."
He's a traditional National Guard Soldier but has yet to perform a unit training assembly, commonly known as "weekend duty." This COVID-19 mission is his introduction to real-world humanitarian assistance. Izhar accepts it. He thanks his new leadership and his fellow Soldiers for the harsh awakening.
"Being a brand new member to our unit, there are some key things Izhar will need to understand. First is his role in the unit and task force," said 1st Lt. Jason Saldana, commander, 184th Engineer Detachment, 115th Regional Support Group. "This will come slowly as we give him assignments and see how the unit as a whole works together. Next will be his development. By attending training events, drills and annual trainings, he will see what will be expected of him as his career progresses."
Izhar moved to the United States in 2017. He's studying architecture at a Kentfield college. Out of uniform, Izhar is a sales consultant at a popular San Raphael electronics store.
As with most everyone in today's COVID-19 era, Izhar's personal life is altered. He's a Soldier first, at least for now. He's quickly learning the "team concept" his unit promotes as he continues his Cal Guard humanitarian mission.
"It did not take long into the mission when we were first sent out to the food bank, that Izhar firsthand saw what a huge impact the National Guard has within the community," Saldana said. "Many Soldiers such as Izhar rose to the challenge of warehouse operations and quickly flourished."
"My expectations about myself, my unit and Cal Guard during this COVID-19 remains highly optimistic as we dive deep to alleviate this undesirable situation," said Izhar. "Even though we are really unfortunate to face this unprecedented epidemic, I cannot express how exultant I am to be part of the humanitarian support to my community and to this nation."
The California Guard was activated almost three weeks ago in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Throughout California, Army and Air Guard members have packed almost 2 million meals at nearly a dozen food banks. Izhar explained this is a proud moment in his early military career, given the circumstances that face the world.
"The main priority of coming here was to get an education and also give back to the community. I found the California National Guard as the best choice to pursue and help my community in unprecedented situations," Izhar said.