American soldier keeps promise made to interpreter

American soldier keeps promise made to interpreter

By Debbie Gregory.

Army Captain Matt Zeller was the kind of soldier who would never leave a fellow soldier behind, especially one that had saved his life.

In 2008, Zeller served for eight months as an embedded combat adviser with the Afghan security forces in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

Capt. Zeller had read that the Afghan code of honor meant that Afghan forces would protect his life with their own. When Janis Shinwari, Zeller’s interpreter, met him in April, 2008, Shinwari pledged to uphold that code.

And just two weeks later, Shinwari picked up a weapon and saved Zeller’s life.

Zellers’ unit was pinned down by 40 Taliban, and they needed help. Their vehicles had already been devastated by an IED and rocket propelled grenades, and the small group of soldiers was outnumbered by the Taliban four to one.

As grenades continued coming, two Taliban fighters tried to sneak up behind Zeller for the kill. Janis Shinwari got there first.  Shinwari ran up from the rear, shooting and killing the two insurgents before helping Zeller retreat to a safe zone.

Five years later,  Zeller was able to fulfill a promise he made to Shinwari to bring him to the United States. Zeller successfully lobbied the State Department to grant Shinwari one of the special immigrant visas that were being offered to Afghan and Iraqi interpreters.

Zeller was waiting at a Washington, D. C. airport to meet Shinwari, and welcome him and his family to America.

It had been a tense summer for Shinwari and his family. In July, the U.S. military unit that he’d been working with in Afghanistan received word that it would be withdrawing from the country this month, and that the interpreters would be relieved of their duties.

For Shinwari, that meant losing the protection of the U.S. forces. He was being sent home, far from the military base where he and his family had been shielded from the dangers of the Taliban.

Zeller praised Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) for going above and beyond to help get a visa for Shinwari. Slaughter had her staff send letters and follow up with officials, on an almost daily basis. Zeller is very grateful to Rep. Slaughter for making it happen.

Shinwari is hoping to start a new life in the United States. He’s got a place to live,  and is now looking for work.

Does anyone need an interpreter?