A courageous RAF serviceman who is dying of cancer at the age of just 27 has been recognised for his commitment to the armed forces.
Father-of-two and senior aircraftman Shahbaz Saleem, who is based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, is currently undergoing palliative treatment for terminal colon cancer.
The base’s station commander Group Captain David Arthurton presented SAC Saleem with a commendation in recognition of his work promoting the RAF to young Muslims.
As a member of the Armed Forces Muslim Association, Saleem undertakes outreach work in the community, and encourages others from British Asian backgrounds to consider a career in the armed services.
He is also involved in charity work, and volunteers in a cafe for homeless people. He has raised over £13,000 for the hospice in Burnley, Lancashire, where he is being treated through a JustGiving page, and has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of colon and bowel cancer in young people.
The airman attended the ceremony, which was held at the hospice, in full dress uniform despite his illness.
Group Captain Arthurton said:
“I have only recently arrived at RAF Leeming, but as soon as I started asking questions about SAC Saleem it struck me what an incredible individual we have in Shahbaz. It was quickly apparent that he is no ordinary airman. Through his career he has delivered with professionalism – and what he continues to do now really goes above and beyond.”
Saleem also received a hand-delivered letter from the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, which read:
“I am filled with an enormous sense of pride, mixed with deep sadness, as I write this letter. Pride that a fine young airman continues to uphold the very best traditions of the service by his selfless acts at a time, perhaps, when he could reasonably be expected to limit his concerns to himself and his immediate family. Your wife and young daughters should be in no doubt about the highest regard that the Royal Air Force holds you, and it is to them that I remind them that they are part of two families - one at home, and one with a very extensive reach - the Royal Air Force.”
The airman, who is married to wife Anum and has two young daughters, said:
“I’m really humbled by everyone here. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the staff here – I am grateful to have such a lovely team. It feels really good to be in uniform again.”
His brother Shahzad added:
“I’m amazingly proud of what he has achieved and continues to achieve every day. It felt like the best day of my life. Shahbaz may be physically weaker but mentally, he is stronger than ever.
“It’s almost as if he has been gifted with some power at this time so that he can go the extra mile. He doesn’t want anyone else to feel what he is feeling, hence the reason why he has the drive to raise awareness around colon and bolwel cancer. He is always thinking about other people.”
Donations to Shabz’s JustGiving page can be made at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Shahbazsaleem