When young Shahin Uddin pictured the United States from his rural town in Bangladesh, he wondered if men sat on beach chairs all day, pulling money from trees.
“My village consisted of seven huts with no running water or electricity,” said Uddin. “I never owned a pair of shoes there.”
Today, Uddin is all grown up, a communications director for the Army ― and now buying plenty of shoes for his 12 children.
“You’re talking to a foreign kid who came from nothing and is now living the American dream,” said Uddin, a major with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment in Fort Myer, Virginia. “I blame it on the Army.”
Uddin’s father came to the U.S. and brought his family over nine years later in 1996, when his son was 12. The opulence of his new country amazed the young Uddin.
“I remember walking into our house not wanting to step on the carpet, because I didn’t want to get it dirty,” he said. “I saw the toilet but had no idea what it was. When I sat on the bed and the mattress sank down, I yelled at my mom that the bed was broken.”
Even so, Uddin acclimated quickly. He joined JROTC in high school but wasn’t interested in making the military his career. He was simply enjoying what he was learning ― plus the companionship of a cadet named Maggie.
Uddin also assumed that his schooling would be done after high school. A JROTC instructor, however, suggested the University of North Georgia. “I laughed and said that’s a great idea, but my family doesn’t have any money,” Uddin remembered.
The instructor bought his young student a plane ticket to visit the school. Uddin ended up attending and participating in ROTC, graduating in 2008 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice and corrections.
Military & family man
Before he graduated, Uddin joined the Army Reserve to pay for tuition. Toward the end of his initial commitment, he realized that becoming a full-time soldier felt natural. He went active duty in 2008, first working as an infantry lieutenant, then transitioning to military intelligence and public affairs.
“I would not have a college degree if not for the GI Bill or a master’s degree if not for the Army sending me to Fort Leavenworth,” Uddin said. “And I would not be able to raise this large family if the Army didn’t have an exceptional support system for us.”
When Uddin says “large family,” he isn’t kidding. He and Maggie married in 2009 and had so much fun being first-time parents ― “We saw it as such a joy and a humbling opportunity to raise the next generation,” he said ― that they kept going. Today, they have eight biological children.
The couple also decided to adopt four of Uddin’s nieces and nephews in 2017. The foursome had been separated in foster care and needed a permanent home. The Uddins became certified as foster parents in New York but then had to PCS to Kansas. They got licensed there but got orders to North Carolina. After receiving their foster license in the Tar Heel state, they finally got custody of the children before PCSing to Virginia.
In August 2022, the Uddins officially became parents to an even dozen, including seven boys and five girls from age 18 down to eight months. They couldn’t do it, he said, without the Army.
“The benefits of TRICARE, the housing allowance, the multitude of on-base resources ― if it weren’t for the military, we would not be able to function as a family,” Uddin said.
The 14 Uddins currently live in a 4,200-square-foot home complete with plenty of triple bunk beds. Out in public, people occasionally ask if they’re running a day care.
Nope, they’re all theirs ― and Uddin couldn’t be happier about not only his fatherhood, but his career and life.
“We have no reason to leave the military, as the Army has been such a blessing to my family,” he said. “And I have no reason not to honorably serve this country, because I would not be the man I am today if not for the blessings of America.”