Person of Interest: Former Shreveporter Has Career as Diplomat
For some people from Shreveport, the world is delineated by the horizons seen from Interstate 20 and Interstate 49. For others, the horizons are Dallas, Little Rock, New Orleans, Jackson or possibly Las Vegas.
But for Aaron Kadkhodai, a DeRidder native who lived in Shreveport most of the 1990s, the horizons are global and the defining cities now are Melbourne and Canberra, as he embarks on his third and most important significant posting in a State Department career that began in 2010.
“This is a big one,” he said during a recent visit to Shreveport that included a stop at Julie Anne’s Bakery. “The first two were for two years each, but this one is for four years. I just found out I’ll be covering India/South Asia issues for the first six months, then moving on to cover U.N./multilateral issues. After that I’ll move to the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, where my portfolio will be ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). I feel this is going to be the determining posting for me. I have served in the Middle East, then in Central America, now in far-flung Australia.”
Now 34, he attended Caddo Middle Magnet and Captain Shreve High before leaving Shreveport for his mother’s native Jena his senior year, and then went to LSU in Baton Rouge.
He graduated from LSU in 2006, and then spent the next three years trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life.
“I became a tour guide for Trek America, for foreign kids who come to the United States and have done summer camp work and then want the opportunity to travel on the cheap,” he said. “It was a great experience and I had a lot of fun, meeting a lot of great kids from Israel, South Korea, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and France. It was an amazing experience but it was incredibly exhausting. And I realized I couldn’t do that forever; I was babysitting young adults, and I had to do something more valuable with my life.”
So he moved to southern California, where he pursued several of his four interests:
politics, writing, travel and film. He engaged in acting and screenwriting, participating in two short films in 2007, Barry’s Last Chance and Therapy, before working for an uncle doing medical billing.
“The State Department satisfies some of the writing urges because as a political officer, I have to draft cables. I felt that medical billing was not my calling. I wanted a change,” he said. “So I looked up ‘cool jobs’ on Google, no joke, and a Forbes listing of top public service jobs came up and the State Department was at the top of the list. And at the time, they were on a hiring surge. So I decided I would give it a shot.”
In 2009, he took a test for employment and passed. He then went on to an oral assessment in Washington, D.C., as part of the winnowing process, and he had to pay his own way there.
One dozen people tried out and he was one of five accepted.
Kadkhodai’s father, Asghar Kadkhodai, was a civil engineer and businessman who came to Louisiana from Iran in the 1970s and wound up attending Louisiana Tech, where he met and married his wife, Louise. Asghar Kadkhodai died in May while visiting relatives in Iran. Louise Kadkhodai and a son 13 years Aaron’s junior still call Shreveport home. A married sister four years younger than Aaron calls Texas home now.
“We bounced around a good bit,” he said of the early years his father worked in oil-related businesses, working on refinery structures across Louisiana and East Texas. “My dad’s corporation worked with Atlas Refinery and his job was doing the work to bring down some of those tall refining towers.”
Kadkhodai and his wife, Christen Decker, have two children, 2-year-old Beaux Saxon Kadkhodai, and 7-month-old, Lola Soileau Kadkhodai.
He also has Cajun and Danish roots, while Christen hails from Portsmouth, NH., by way of parents with origins in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Florida.
“She’s half Lebanese, half Scots-Irish,” he said of his wife, whom he met while both were attending Arab language school early in their State Department careers.
The Kadkhodais “aren’t the typical couple,” reads a recent profile on the couple by author Alina Dizik on the blog Nap Eat Repeat. “They speak four languages between the two of them and have created the kind of jetsetter life most parents of young children can only dream about.” They are “on assignment together and trailblazing the route for diplomatic couples not willing to put their family life on the backburner.”
One would think that with his Iranian background, he would have language skills that inclined him to diplomatic work. And one would think wrong.
“My kitchen Farsi is bad,” he said. “I know how to get angry in Farsi, order good food and ask ‘Where is the bathroom?’”
Now settling in to life in Australia after visits to Shreveport and New Hampshire, Kadkhodai will spend his first year working as an exchange officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade while his wife, also a State Department employee, takes a break.
“She’s on leave for this period,” he explained. “She wants to focus on being a mom for a bit. Ever since we brought our children to Honduras, she has felt a strong pull to be with them without professional distractions.”
That was his second posting and the first where they were a married couple.
While his father was Iranian, “I’m not really practicing in any religious faith,” he said. “My wife is Catholic and we got married in a Catholic church. I find myself being happy just being around really interesting faiths. My wife calls me a humanist. I’ll stick with that.”
His first posting in 2010 was Bahrain, of major importance as home base of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and control point for the Straits of Hormuz.
“The tour was incredibly interesting,” he said. “Bahrain was described to me when I first got there as ‘Middle East Lite.’ I arrived and within nine days of being there, the Arab Spring hit Bahrain hard,” he said. “A State of Emergency was declared. Tanks were on the streets. There were tire burnings, barricades blocking streets, ad-hoc checkpoints; some official, some unofficial. There was chaos in the streets for a while.”
While he was in Bahrain, his wife-to-be was posted in nearby Qatar, so they stayed in touch, and he finally flew over and proposed.
They married in late December 2011 in her home city, Portsmouth, and soon were posted to Honduras together.
Both their children were born in New Hampshire and they own a home in Washington, but “we don’t call any one place home. We don’t have a fixed place. Where are we going to settle? When you have kids you want to have some place you call your anchor, some place where you say ‘this is home.”
Christen Kadkhodai has grown to know and understand Shreveport.
“I was born and bred in New England and never thought I would marry a southern boy, but I fell hard and fast for Aaron,” she said. “Like New Hampshire, Louisiana is a kind of second home for us in this nomadic lifestyle, and it has been wonderful to come home and watch Shreveport grow and change even in the five years we have been married.”
Aaron Kadkhodai also sees growth and evolution.
“Every time I come back, I’m happy to see changes,” he said. “It’s growing in a positive way. Shreveport seems to be a city that is flourishing but not losing its past. One thing I know, when we come back to the United States, due to their ages, my children are going to speak like Australians. It’s going to be really strange.”