We broke our promise…
Our promise to leave no one behind…
And that’s exactly what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan.
LEAVE NO MAN BEHIND
Every branch of the military has its version of the Warrior Ethos. Common to each, at least in principle, is the promise to leave no one behind. This is the core focus of the Warrior Creed for the Army of which I was part for 24 years.
- I will always place the mission first.
- I will never accept defeat.
- I will never quit.
- I will never leave a fallen comrade.
Nothing is more sacred than taking care of a wounded or fallen comrade. The military will dedicate immense resources, even divert assets from another mission, to care for, rescue if needed, and bring them to safety.
While we have honored this sacred Warrior Creed for our Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Coast Guardsmen.
But there is one group we have fully failed to honor the promises we made.
When the United States military deployed combat forces into these two countries, we needed the assistance of local nationals to work as interpreters. It’s estimated over 50,000 locals from the two countries combined were hired by the U.S. military branches.
When I deployed to Iraq, we had several interpreters who worked with us over the year we were there. Not only did they help us understand the local language (primarily Kurdish along with Arabic), they also helped us understand the local customs and culture. Through their service, they also protected us because their service helped us to operate with more awareness. That awareness helped create a next level of safety.
In return for their service, they were financially compensated. But more importantly, they were promised protection, and they were promised an opportunity to resettle in America.
Working as an interpreter for the U.S. came with great risk. Speaking for our unit, we did a good job of protecting them while they worked for us. But when we left Iraq to come home, they stayed, transitioning to the Army unit that replaced us.
We came home to safety. And they stayed behind in the danger. And not just them, their families also were in danger.
It’s difficult to know how many interpreters (and their families) have been killed because they served our country. While the U.S. government does not track the number of interpreters killed while serving with the military, the nonprofit group No One Left Behind is working on it.
No One Left Behind estimates between 2016 and when the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, roughly 300 have been killed since 2016. That’s 300 we know about in Afghanistan, just since 2016! I wonder what is the unknown number starting in 2001 when we responded to the horrible attacks of 9/11? What about those in Iraq?
NO ONE LEFT BEHIND
No One Left Behind is working to evacuate interpreters and their immediate families who are laboring through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process, including translators, interpreters, and other professionals “employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Afghanistan.”
Part of the process includes helping these incredible people to places like Pakistan where they can complete their SIV processing in relative safety. In 2023, No One Left Behind set a goal to successfully evacuate 1,000 people from Afghanistan, a goal they greatly surpassed. By the end of the year, that number was 2,487.
Elisa and I had the opportunity last month to attend a screening of the film “Interpreters Wanted“. The film pays tribute to the Afghanistan interpreters who served the U.S. Military, and the arduous journey to escape the turmoil in their home country. The film even portrays the harrowing days of the hasty, ill-conceived, and ill-executed exit of the U.S. Military from Afghanistan in August 2021.
Robert Ham was a combat videographer who deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, just two years after joining the Army. As a combat videographer, he discovered the complexity of Afghan society, connecting with interpreters Saifullah and Ismail Haqmal, who offered insights into Afghan life. Despite wariness, their collaboration deepened, with Saifullah aiding Ham and his fellow soldiers in navigating Afghan society.
After the war, Ham recognized the complexity of the situation the Haqmal brothers now faced. Putting his documentary filmmaking skills to work, Ham created “Interpreters Wanted” to chronicle their partnership and his efforts to assist the brothers in leaving Afghanistan. when promised support failed to materialize.
We met Robert Ham at the screening along with brothers Saifullah and Ismail Haqmal (pictured above) who are featured in the documentary and who are now both living safely in the United States. We were also blessed to meet the directors and key leadership of No One Left Behind who flew out to support the fundraising event.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Like everything else that feels important, the only way change happens is when you do something with what you feel. If this feels important to do, then do something. Great starting points are reading more about the sacred work of No One Left Behind, writing to your congressional representatives, and making a financial donation.
For today, reading this far is a powerful step.
Have a great Monday! Thanks for letting me share.
I Love You!
p.s. Take 13 minutes today to watch the preview of Interpreters Wanted and ponder what this means for you.