From Kabul to Texas: An Interpreter's Story

[Note from Mad Duo Chris: I met this interpreter during my deployment to Afghanistan, and we rode into the Battle of the Alasai Valley together. He was a trusted ally to many American soldiers and spent more than his fair share of time under fire. I remember my dread when I heard he had been wounded by a large buried IED. When I last saw him in country he was on crutches outside the Bagram PX, telling me about his numerous injuries. Fortunately for us all, six years later he was a guest in my home in Texas, a permanent legal resident working toward his citizenship. He’s from Afghanistan but his story is uniquely American, and his voice should be heard.]

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[This article was brought to you by JTF Awesome member Daniel Defense. In case you have been living in a cave or communist country: they’re the semi-subtle-yet-totally-baller AR manufacturer that the free world knows and loves]

From Kabul to Texas: An Interpreter’s Story

Obaid

Working as a local national interpreter with the United States Army was one of the most significant things I’ve ever done, and it’s something I take great pride in. To me it was not just a job; I took it very seriously and personally. The monetary compensation motivated me very little. My fulfillment came from many other I earned while working for the military, which I will get to in a bit. Everything I gained as an interpreter helped me be the person I am today, and I will always be in profound debt to America for that.

I grew up in Kabul, but my family comes from Chak, Wardak, a small town sixty miles south. Everyone before me, or at least all the ones I know in my bloodline, were or still are career soldiers. My great grandfather was an Afghan Royal Army General, my grandfather was an Army Colonel and my father is currently a Major in the Afghan Air Force. My father went to Soviet Air Force Academy in Krasnodar, Russia, as a foreign military student. During the Taliban era, that was enough for most of our acquaintances to label him a faithless communist and me a faithless communist’s son. That was a simple way to justify whatever wrong they did to us, such as my father’s distant cousins taking control of our farmland.

My mother has a Master’s Degree in Pedagogy and literature, but she had to sew clothes during the Taliban era so she could afford to send me to private English courses. Thanks to her, I was able to speak decent English by the time 9/11 happened. I was only fourteen years old, and right around then I started reading Tom Clancy and Stephen Coonts books thrown away by Americans soldiers.

[Grunts: Pedagogy]

By the time I was sixteen I had no interest in living the way my parents or other typical Afghan parents wanted their kids to live. I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to be a badass and learn weapons. I wanted to be a spy. I wanted to work for the CIA but had no platform to launch from. The only thing close to that was working as an interpreter for the US military. I applied and passed the test when I was seventeen years old.

When I was a brand-new terp
When I was a brand-new terp

In February of 2008 I got the call to start my job, and was assigned to Task Force Gladiator which was responsible for force protection at Bagram Airfield. We worked in towers and on base checkpoints helping soldiers communicate with Afghan guards. That would have been the dream job for 90% of the other interpreters, but it sure as hell wasn’t mine.

I wanted combat and I wanted to kill Taliban. During the Taliban era, as I said earlier, I was called a faithless communist’s son as an insult. I saw my dad get threatened and slapped, and watched him drive an old cab and my mom sew clothes to provide for my four siblings and me. I didn’t think it hurt me much then, but as I grew so did my disgust and hatred for the Taliban.

In April 2008, I volunteered to go on a combat mission to Kapisa province. As soon as I got there I realized I was where I belonged. The base I was sent to had a gym, enough food, and most importantly, American infantrymen with plenty of guns and ammo. At that moment, I believed if there was a heaven on earth it had to be FOB Morales Frazier.

Kapisa Province
Kapisa Province

I was put in a room with another afghan interpreter who now lives in Colorado. I woke up to harsh knocks on the door from a soldier asking for an interpreter to go on patrol. I volunteered, and threw on body armor over the only nasty camouflage top I could find that didn’t belong to anyone.

That morning I attended my first pre-mission briefing ever. The squad leader went over the objectives, routes and possibilities of enemy activity. Right there I realized the reality and depth of shit I had gotten myself into. After the briefing the squad leader told me I would ride in his humvee. Before we could mount up and roll, the driver pulled out an AK47 and asked me if I knew how to use it. I replied “Affirmative”, and he handed me four spare magazines. I didn’t have pouches on my body armor or a tactical vest, so I asked the driver for help. He said he didn’t care and I could put them in my pocket, so I did. That was my first time holding a gun with sincere intentions of killing with it. Meanwhile, my friends were going to college in Kabul.

The American soldiers I worked with were hesitant to communicate with me initially, but that didn’t last very long. We got in a long firefight a week after I got to Morales Frazier. They were surprised when they saw me cutting straps off ammo cans and handing them to the gunner. I actively participated in the fight, and that night we became brothers. To this day we keep in contact and call each other from time to time.

That was my very first firefight. There were many more yet more to come, but the first one taught me something valuable: you can’t really count on people until you have been through shit with them. After that night the soldiers trusted me, and would invite me to their tables in the dining facility and their barracks to hang out and play video games.

After I was awarded an "honorary CIB" by my American infantry brothers.
After I was awarded an “honorary CIB” by my American infantry brothers.

Life was good. We were getting in contacts at least three to five times a week, and once a humvee I was riding in was struck by an IED but thankfully none of us were injured (so I had an IED under my belt too). I was working out, my salary was going to my bank account and in all honesty I didn’t pay attention to it at all. I was living my dream, and on top of that I was learning how to shoot from our platoon leader who happened to be one of the “Presidents Hundred” best shooters. I interrogated suspected fighters we captured in raids or ambushes. That made me pretty notorious among the locals, and I knew terrible things would be done to me if I was captured.

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2008 went by like in a flash, and in 2009 I was assigned to a less kinetic unit engaged in humanitarian aid and development projects. The guys I worked with were all infantrymen but they just provided security to the civil affairs personnel. It was really not my cup of tea, so I tried to volunteer to do high threat missions with other units as often as possible. In March 2009 I was able to participate in the grueling Battle of Alasai Valley with US Marines, French Mountain Troops, Afghan National Army and US Army Soldiers. Later that year I was injured by an IED, and had to take some time off to recover. After I got back to Kapisa I wasn’t as hard charging as before. Years of war had worn me out.

Picture taken inside Chris Hernandez's humvee during the advance into the Alasai Valley.
Picture taken inside Chris Hernandez’s humvee during the advance into the Alasai Valley.

I found a civilian job as a call center supervisor for a bank in Dubai, UAE. I spent two years there before coming back to Afghanistan and working as a contractor for an American private military company doing air interdiction, advising and assisting the Afghan Air Force and Special Missions Wing. But eventually I found my way to the place I now call home: Houston, Texas.

I’ve enlisted in the US Army to be an airborne infantryman. One thing I wish to achieve in the infantry is to be engaged in a battle like Alasai at least one more time. I really can’t find the proper adjective to describe the battle of Alasai, so I will say it was “glorious” for lack of a better term, even though we lost some great men there.

Being an interpreter for the US Army was something I did with a lot of passion, and in it I found a lot of personal satisfaction. I fit in the job like a round peg in a round hole. The desire to have the same feeling again about my profession led me to enlist in US Army. I am very proud of what I have done, I believe I’ve done my fair share to make the world a better place, and I can’t wait to do more as an American soldier.

-O


You probably remember Obaid from the article Wise Words from an American Muslim Combat Vet. But if you haven’t read that piece–it’s a good one. MD

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More about Daniel Defense: Chances are that if you’re reading this page, you’re at least familiar with AR-15’s. Most all of us here at BreachBangClear have carried AR’s or M4’s in professional capacities the world over, and we’ve even managed to learn a thing or two about guns along the way. We won’t sell you a line of shit–Daniel Defense is definitely a go-to manufacturer for us and has been for a long time. It’s easy to go cheaper (note that we didn’t use the term ‘inexpensive’) but much harder to do better. We are proud and enthused to have them in JTF Awesome, and it’s through JTF Awesome we make this all possible. Read about our exploits with them at SHOT Show, be sure to visit their homepage here, and give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram.

 

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