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Don’t Let Foreign Interpreters Who Supported Troops Get Left Behind
The email I had been waiting for reached my inbox while I sat in my office at Fort Bragg on a brisk autumn day in 2009. “Dear Captain, my new address in Tennessee is...” it read.
Mike was one of eight Iraqi interpreters my unit employed during our 15-month tour at the height of the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq. That message marked the culmination of an 18-month effort by two senior military officers and a half-dozen others working to get Mike out of Iraq. We ensured that Mike’s application, under the special immigrant visa program for interpreters, would not get lost. After he had received numerous death threats, we knew his life depended on how quickly we helped navigate him through the bureaucratic process.
Unfortunately, Mike’s experience is common, except for the part where he got here safely. Thousands of deserving interpreters are stranded. There are 1,800 Iraqis currently living in bureaucratic purgatory while under constant threat of assassination. Even more appalling, 6,000 Afghan applicants awaited resolution as of last summer. It’s time we repaid our debt to these brave individuals — many of whom saved American lives at great risk.
Mike’s success story is counterbalanced by the reality facing “Yousif” (a nickname used to protect him), another one of the interpreters who served with us. After U.S. troops left Iraq, Yousif knew his life was in danger. In early 2013, he started the application process. Yousif was marked for death not only for his cooperation with Americans, but also because he is Yazidi, a sect that Islamic State extremists are determined to exterminate. Yazidis have been mercilessly persecuted and systematically slaughtered since the Islamic State started making its barbarous advance across northwestern Iraq.
Last year, Yousif and his family fled from Mount Sinjar, stalked by fighters along the way. Thousands of Yazidis were massacred. Women and children were sold into slavery. Yousif’s brother-in-law is still missing and we fear the worst. After escaping Sinjar, Yousif, his wife, two daughters, and son wound up in a refugee camp in southern Turkey, living in an austere tent. They left their possessions and home behind.
In May of this year — more than two years since he started the process to come to the U.S. — after relentless efforts by a team of pro bono attorneys, military officers, and officials from the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project and Defense Department’s immigrant visa clearinghouse, Yousif received word that he would be interviewed for his visa.
Despite the progress, it is hard not to notice that the normally upbeat and resolute Yousif seems more and more pessimistic. A few months ago, Yousif sent pictures of what appeared to me to be Easter Egg baskets. “This is what we do for Yazidi New Years celebration, although we can’t do it this year,” he said. Sometimes, even though we’re doing the best we can for him and his family, our efforts can feel empty.
There are more refugees and internally displaced persons around the world right now than at any time since World War II — more than 51 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, greater than the populations of California and Pennsylvania combined. The need for America to live up to its reputation as the shining beacon of hope has never been greater. Yet for Yousif, like many other refugees and other asylum seekers fleeing unimaginable violence, destruction, and persecution, the average wait time according to the State Department’s own statistics is between one year and 18 months. In fact, wait times are so beyond the congressionally mandated nine months that several applicants sued the federal government.
Despite broad, bipartisan agreement that we should honor our commitments to those who’ve served, not much visible progress has been made. We can take the first step to properly honoring those commitments by ensuring resources are put in place to process applications and clear the backlog within the next six months. We just sent a probe to Pluto — surely we can process paperwork more quickly.
America was built by those who escaped political and religious persecution. These brave interpreters are not only being persecuted, but they have shown loyalty to a country they’ve never known. Let’s give them a chance to find out what it is that makes America so special. As the inscription written by Emma Lazarus reads at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Their tales, like so many of our relatives and ancestors, are deeply woven into the fabric of American life and history. One day, we hope soon, Yousif and his family will arrive here in the U.S. where he knows that he’ll find a better life — that golden door.
An Air Force civilian has died at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar in a "non-combat related incident," U.S. Air Forces Central Command announced on Friday.
Jason P. Zaki, 32, died on Wednesday while deployed to the 609th Air Operations Center from the Pentagon, an AFCENT news release says.
At a time when taxpayer and foreign-government spending at Trump Organization properties is fueling political battles, a U.S. Marine Corps reserve unit stationed in South Florida hopes to hold an annual ball at a venue that could profit the commander in chief.
The unit is planning a gala to celebrate the 244th anniversary of the Marines' founding at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach on Nov. 16, according to a posting on the events website Evensi.
QUANTICO, Virginia -- They may not be deadly, but some of the nonlethal weapons the Marine Corps is working on look pretty devastating.
The Marine Corps Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate is currently testing an 81mm mortar round that delivers a shower of flashbang grenades to disperse troublemakers. There is also an electric vehicle-stopper that delivers an electrical pulse to shut down a vehicle's powertrain, designed for use at access control points.
"When you hear nonlethal, you are thinking rubber bullets and batons and tear gas; it's way more than that," Marine Col. Wendell Leimbach Jr., director of the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate, told an audience at the Modern Day Marine 2019 expo.
RACHEL, Nev. (Reuters) - UFO enthusiasts began descending on rural Nevada on Thursday near the secret U.S. military installation known as Area 51, long rumored to house government secrets about alien life, with local authorities hoping the visitors were coming in peace.
Some residents of Rachel, a remote desert town of 50 people a short distance from the military base, worried their community might be overwhelmed by unruly crowds turning out in response to a recent, viral social-media invitation to "storm" Area 51. The town, about 150 miles (240 km) north of Las Vegas, lacks a grocery store or even a gasoline station.
Dozens of visitors began arriving outside Rachel's only business - an extraterrestrial-themed motel and restaurant called the Little A'Le'Inn - parking themselves in cars, tents and campers. A fire truck was stationed nearby.
Alien enthusiasts descend on the Nevada desert to 'storm' Area 51
Attendees arrive at the Little A'Le'Inn as an influx of tourists responding to a call to 'storm' Area 51, a secretive U.S. military base believed by UFO enthusiasts to hold government secrets about extra-terrestrials, is expected Rachel, Nevada, U.S. September 19, 2019
One couple, Nicholas Bohen and Cayla McVey, both sporting UFO tattoos, traveled to Rachel from the Los Angeles suburb of Fullerton with enough food to last for a week of car-camping.
"It's evolved into a peaceful gathering, a sharing of life stories," McVey told Reuters, sizing up the crowd. "I think you are going to get a group of people that are prepared, respectful and they know what they getting themselves into."