Mohammad, a former interpreter for American forces in Afghanistan, poses for a photo in front of a rainbow in Maryland after relocating to the United States. Mohammad received assistance in completing his American Special Immigrant Visa process from Tarjorman, a non-profit group which includes several former service members including former Fort George G. Meade Asymmetric Warfare Group Soldiers. (Courtesy photo)
Continuing to serve: Meade retirees help relocate Afghan interpreter to Maryland
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. – In the summer of 2021 Mohammad was feeling hopeful, he was about to receive his American Special Immigrant Visa and had a scheduled flight out of Kabul; he had begun saying goodbye to his family and friends.
Then two-days before his flight the Afghan government fell to the Taliban, which swept a wave of uncertainty across the nation and shifted what would have been a hectic trip to the airport into a chaotic and risky journey.
Still hopeful, after receiving an email with instructions from the State Department Mohammad, who goes by his first name to help protect his mother who is still in the country, packed a bag and made his way to the airport.
FEARING FOR HIS LIFE
“It was very crowded, and they would not let people in the airport,” said the former interpreter for American Forces. “Then we received a security alert telling everyone to return home.”
Mohammad, who spent years helping American forces train their Afghan counterparts by serving as a translator, began to fear for his safety.
“I was locked in the house,” he said. “I couldn’t go out. Everyone knew I was hoping to get out of the country in two or three days. I had disclosed this information with my neighbors and friends. I was worried people might be coming and hunting me down.”
Mohammad’s formed close bonds with the U.S. service members he worked with on a daily basis. These connections became a lifeline.
“There were many organizations helping me and my colleagues,” he said. “One of my friends introduced me to a group called Tarjorman. They advised me, helped with my paperwork, finances, transportation, and accommodations.”
FINDING HELP TO FLEE AFGHANISTAN
Tarjorman is a nonprofit group co-founded by a former Asymmetric Warfare Group sergeant major and includes several other former members. The Soldiers who served with the AWG, which operated on Fort George G. Meade from March 2006 to March 2021, was formed of several senior ranking members and functional area experts who provided global operational advisory support.
“When we started working with Mohammad and realized how far along, he was in the process, we advised him how to proceed,” said Gonzalo Lassally, who co-founded Tarjorman and served as an AWG integration troop sergeant major.
LEAVING FAMILY BEHIND
As Mohammad once again prepared to leave Afghanistan, he began to feel conflicted.
“When I got my visa, I was with my mother,” he said. “One moment I felt like I should cry, the other moment I felt excitement. I was hoping I could help my mother come with me, but I couldn't help her. My mother is the only person from my family left in Afghanistan. Leaving my mother alone was very terrifying for me, especially in a male dominated society.”
Nearly four years after beginning his special immigration process, Mohammad arrived in Baltimore last month. He was greeted by Lassally at the airport, who connected him with other support groups to assist him as he settles in the area.
“Other organizations are visiting and offering help,” Mohammad said. “A guy offered to let me stay with him. People are helping with paperwork. Gonzalo helped me with my resume before I arrived. I have people helping me with job applications. They have been helpful with all kinds of things.”
In addition, the Tarjorman volunteers are continuing to support Mohammad.
“Once Mohammad is a permanent resident, we can help his mother apply for asylum and reunite them, along with his wife who is in Europe at the moment,” Lassally said.
WHAT IS NEXT
Since Tarjorman stood-up, they have continued to adapt based on what they’ve learned and the needs they see.
“We are still growing (as an organization),” said Ivor Griffiths, who served as an AWG Charlie Squadron deputy commander and is a Tarjorman operations support specialist. “If you take Mohammad for example, we haven’t closed his circle yet. It is not to get them from the airport to the hotel room and give them a high-five and move on to the next person. His mother is still there, how can we facilitate whatever needs to be done? This is going to be new for us.”
Adapting operations and leveraging partnerships has enabled the group to streamline their processes, so they can continue to help endangered Afghans to safety.
“If you were to call me today and tell me you had a group of individuals who were being hunted and provide the proof, I could probably have passports, visas and get them across the border within 20-30 days,” Lassally said.
For Mohammad, the future is full of new possibilities.
by Tammie Moore, Fort Meade Public Affairs