Academy Airman helps Afghan interpreter start new life in US
By Amber Baillie, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published January 10, 2015
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- Two months after the inside attack on eight American Airmen and a civilian adviser in Kabul, Afghanistan, an Airman now stationed at the Academy deployed to the country to take on the same job as the fallen victims, known as the "NATC-A NINE."
Master Sgt. Michael Simon, now an Academy Military Trainer for Cadet Squadron 16, began a year-long deployment in June 2011 at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan as a Mi-17 crew chief air adviser, where he relied heavily on Afghan interpreters to stay alive and accomplish the mission of training Afghan airmen to run an independent and operationally capable Air Force.
Now, three years later, Simon is sponsoring a former interpreter so he (the interpreter) and his family can live a better life in Colorado Springs.
"While downrange, I was placed in the Afghan air force military unit to help with tasks such as flightline maintenance and phase maintenance," Simon said. "Being able to connect with Afghan airmen was critical to our mission. We couldn't communicate without local interpreters and that's how I met Mohammad Javad, or 'MJ.'"
MJ, 26, speaks Dari, Persian Farsi, English and Pashto. He said he became an interpreter to help Afghanistan become a safer place for his family.
"It was a dangerous job because I had to keep all of my personal information a secret," MJ said. "Working with sergeant Simon was an honor for me. We were a team and needed to work together to reach our goal."
Afghan interpreters working with American forces are often targeted by the Taliban. Due to the risk of the job, interpreters can apply for a Special Immigrant Visa that allows them to leave the country to protect their families.
MJ was an interpreter for the U.S. Air Force and Army for three years.
"It's a long process," Simon said. "I worked with the Lutheran Refugee Services to help get MJ's documents and apartment set up before he arrived to the U.S."
Simon said sponsoring MJ is the least he can do to thank him for his support downrange.
"The Afghan interpreters helped us out so much and were crucial to our mission," Simon said. "If MJ was in the military, I think he'd be awarded a Bronze Star for the support he provided."
MJ and his family arrived to Colorado Nov. 19, 2014; Simon picked them up from the airport.
Simon has helped MJ look for a job, get a cell phone, had him over for dinners, and provided his family cooking supplies, baby items and more through church donations.
"I'm glad his family is here and I want to support them in any way I can," Simon said. "They were only allowed to bring two suitcases to the U.S. They basically came here with nothing. My wife, Jessica, and his wife, Sarah, have really hit it off. Their daughter is six months old and is one day older than my six month old."
MJ rides his bike every day to work at a manufacturing company. He is currently trying to save money so he can buy a car and find a better job.
"America is the land of opportunities," MJ said. "I hope to make a better future for my family here. Sgt. Simon has helped me and my family more than I thought and expected. We are really good friends now."
Building a good rapport with Afghan interpreters while deployed was critical, Simon said.
"The first six months I was there, my main job was to build a relationship with them where they could trust me and it worked," he said. "Once I had that kind of relationship with them, they opened up and had the highest respect for me because it was mutual. I respected them for what they were doing for their country. Just like interpreters, Afghan military members are sought-after by enemy forces. Their lives are at risk but they're a part of the military because they want to serve and change their country. I also love their caring, hospitable and communal culture."
Simon said he plans to sponsor another Afghan interpreter he worked with who is currently in the process of obtaining a Special Immigrant Visa.
"I look at MJ and other Afghan interpreters as an extension of our military family," Simon said. "When I was serving as an adviser, I relied on and trusted them to ensure another horrific NATC-A NINE situation did not happen again."