CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- “Knowledge will give you power, but character will give you respect.” – Bruce Lee
The time comes for every active duty Marine to consider other career options and eventually make life altering decisions. During that time, possibilities and risks are weighed against lifelong ambitions, and true faith will be tested.
For Capt. Shaheed Shabazz, a search and rescue UH-1N Huey pilot training officer aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., that decision involved balancing his two passions – the Marines and filmmaking.
“I’ve been in Yuma a little under two years,” said Shabazz, who’s taking his leave from active duty service and entering the Marine Corps Reserves. “I got here in August of 2011, and I love it. It’s a beautiful place.”
Shabazz, a native of Chaparral, N.M., is no stranger to deserts like Yuma. Having grown up in a small town 10 to 15 minutes outside of El Paso, Texas, Shabazz’s early childhood found him smack dab in the middle of similar sandy terrain. Chaparral was a rural town with a small population, bumpy dirt roads and an unforgiving climate.
A middle child in a family of 11 kids, Shabazz was the son of a Nigerian-born United States Army intelligence officer, Maj. Saint Godson Adeogba, and a first generation American-born Sicilian mother, Quadriyaa Shabazz. Such a large family needed a large home, so the couple began manual work on their two-story home in the late 70’s, and continued until the home resembled a mass castle of rock on their five-acre property.
“It’s got what looks like parapets on top because the roof was never done so we just ran around up there,” said Shabazz. “That big rock was always under construction. It was livable, but it was never really done – to this day, it’s still not completely finished.”
For young Shabazz, the hard-working and disciplined guidance around him was only natural. Having an 8th-degree black belt martial arts instructor for a father didn’t hurt either. Starting at the age of five, Shabazz spent two hours a day honing his mental and physical skills through the art of self-defense and hand-to-hand combat classes.
“My dad was always hard-working. He definitely taught me how to work hard, but he also taught me how to play hard,” said Shabazz. “Come Fourth of July, we would have a four or five day-long party. The one I remember best had anywhere from 100 to 200 people crash on our property - it was like Lollapalooza.”
Shabazz had a strong environment that developed his personality and nurtured his interests. Drawing, writing, a love for Kung Fu, science fiction and horror movies were what drove his passion. They eventually inspired him to make his directorial debut in his junior year at Gadsden High School with a 7-minute short film titled “Attack of the Super Kung Fu Killer Brothers.”
“It was for a class called TV-101,” recalled Shabazz. “Me, my brothers and a couple of my cousins made this karate movie. We played it in the morning and by the end of the day everyone was talking about it.”
This desire to influence a mass audience resulted with Shabazz studying broadcast journalism and mass communications at New Mexico State University. After graduation, he pursued his goals as a freelance journalist; reporting, anchoring, directing, and producing products across the city of Las Cruces, N.M.
After a few years of following that dream, reality would demand a career change that supported his growing family. Freelancing and working as an aid to people with mental disabilities just wasn’t enough to take care of his wife and child
“I told myself, ‘I’ll look into the military, and if they give me a flight contract, I’ll get in,’” said Shabazz. “I went to the Air Force first, but they turned me down, for whatever reason. Then I went to the next one, the Marine Corps, and they got me a flight contract, and off I went.”
Although going to Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School at Quantico, Va., was not his original plan, the mental toughness Shabazz had developed as young man proved its worth at OCS. In the end, it was the cold and physical demands of the 10-week-long training regimen that challenged his resolve.
“It was one of the coldest winters on record there that year,” said Shabazz. “It snowed everywhere. It was freezing, just miserable.”
Knowledge, power, character and respect has been engrained in Shabazz since he was a child practicing fighting techniques with his father in the desert sun. He’s taken that formula with him over the years and molded himself into the Marine he is today.
“The Marine Corps helped me mature. You can’t hold on to childish things and be a Marine Corps officer, it’s just not possible. You learn how to be in charge, how to take care of your people, and know that it’s not about just you,” said Shabazz. “It helped me be a better father and husband as well, because you have to be very selfless; you have way more to think about than just yourself.”
Shabazz’s military career has brought him around the world, including New York, Italy, Jordan, Israel, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Haiti, and Iraq. He has also completed 3 deployments, and during that time he kept his creative skills sharp. In 2009, while on his first deployment, he began writing a psychological thriller novel title “Inconsolable.”
In his spare time, he’s also launched a production company with his brother that recently produced a music video featuring Austin Trout, a fellow New Mexico native and former World Boxing Association light middleweight champion of the world.
“I have so many other things I want to do creatively. I have my own business, I want it to grow, and I want to dedicate myself to it as close to 100 percent as I can,” said Shabazz, referring to his decision to leave active duty service. “I’ll still be in the reserves, I’ll still be flying, but I want more time to dedicate myself to what I’m personally passionate about - which is filmmaking and writing.”
A documentary, produced by the Shabazz brothers’ company, with long-distance ultramarathoners called “Why 100?” is slated for release in August 2013, followed by a film adaptation of his novel that begins shooting this October in New Mexico.
Ambition, drive and passion brought Shabazz to the Marine Corps. While decisiveness, initiative and judgment will steer him to his next step in life, the Corps will always be part of his world.
“I’m going to take away the camaraderie and pride. The closeness that Marines have by sharing that elite title,” said Shabazz. “We’re a small group as it relates to the world population, even to the country’s population, so we have something in common that others can’t understand unless they’ve been in it.”