An American story

Afghan interpreter just one of the guys at VFW gathering
Post 4203 thanks soldiers with dinner 

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — According to the eligibility membership guidelines for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Nassir Ahmad is not able to join the ranks.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Nassir Ahmad, 27, is a former interpreter for American military forces in Afghanistan. He arrived in the U.S. in May, leaving behind his wife and three children. He left his home country due to fears of safety and his hopeful his family and soon join him.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Nassir Ahmad, 27, is a former interpreter for American military forces in Afghanistan. He arrived in the U.S. in May, leaving behind his wife and three children. He left his home country due to fears of safety and his hopeful his family and soon join him.

He has neither: received a campaign medal for overseas service, nor has he served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Korea; nor has he ever received hostile fire or imminent danger pay. But the 27-year-old has certainly paid his dues while serving 10 years with American military forces in Afghanistan as an interpreter.

“My mission was not one day,” Ahmad said. “My mission was not one month. My mission was 10 years.”

He began at the age of 14 when, in 2002, the 101st Airborne Division needed someone in the province who spoke English and could serve as an interpreter between soldiers and the Pashto- and Dari-speaking natives. Ahmad was never supposed to learn English. Doing so under the Taliban’s government was dangerous.

“Few there understood English,” Ahmad said Saturday evening. “I was hiding by (text)book. They would never, ever let you learn English.”

Despite the technicality, Ahmad was just one of the gang Saturday evening as members of VFW Post 4203 served soldiers assigned to the 881st Engineer Support Company of the North Carolina Army National Guard. The dinner, on the eve of the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was part of Post 4203’s “Adopt a Unit” program. Even while the unit was deployed to Afghanistan from January to November in 2010, the local VFW provided assistance and recognition in any manner possible.

The company “is a rapidly deployable, equipment-intensive company that provides light and medium earthmoving, enhancing force-infrastructure protection, engineer support of force application and protection,” according to unit documents.

Ahmad relocated to the United States six months ago. As he has chosen sides — and taken an anti-Taliban approach — his life was increasingly in danger as American forces redeployed him. It took four years for the U.S. Embassy to compete his paperwork, but he arrived at the Charlotte airport safely, though without cab fare.

His destination was Rockingham. Ahmad’s last unit he served with was the 881st under former First Sgt. Eddie Dean. After 40 years wearing Army fatigues, Dean retired in January 2013 but maintained contact with Ahmad. He continues to help the Afghani man transition to American life. That includes dealing with the fact that his wife and three children, ages 5, 3 and an infant born Dec. 1, remain in his home country. The process to bring them to the U.S. has been initiated, Ahmad said, but the wait can be lengthy, sometimes a wait of two years or more.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Soldiers of the 881st Engineer Support Company enjoy a meal of hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, cole slaw and soda Saturday night at the Rockingham armory.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Soldiers of the 881st Engineer Support Company enjoy a meal of hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, cole slaw and soda Saturday night at the Rockingham armory.

Ahmad said the Americans’ presence in Afghanistan is overall a good thing. The effect of their departure, however, is something else. The government, he believes, “is corrupted.”

His native land of southern Afghanistan is particularly unsafe, Ahmad said. He moved his family to Kabul, the capital.

“You can not sleep very normal in Afghanistan,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad remains unemployed but is eligible to work. He said he has experience with computers and owned a logistics company in Afghanistan. Until steady employment comes, he does what he can to pass the time. That includes continuing to strengthen a bond with Dean and other soldiers, current and former, who wear the American flag on their right shoulder sleeve.

“This is why I’m a member of the VFW,” said Eileen Evans. “They’re important.”

Evans and her husband, Larry, are a key part of a core group of VFW Post 4203 members. The nonprofit military services organization does what it can to help today’s service members understand what they mean to the average person but, Eileen Evans said, “they deserve more.”

Along with the Evans’ and Dean, Post 4203 member Larry Meacham was checking the right shoulder sleeves of the nearly four dozen soldiers in attendance, including Dean’s successor, First Sgt. Andrew D. Odom and Capt. Michael Thompson, company commander. Certain patches mean they have seen time overseas, and that they’d be eligible to join the VFW.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Eddie Dean, U.S. Army First Sgt. (retired), remains comfortable speaking to dozens of soldiers.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Eddie Dean, U.S. Army First Sgt. (retired), remains comfortable speaking to dozens of soldiers.

Dean, meanwhile, was in his element. Twenty-two months removed from being in front of a company on a regular basis, he easily commanded the attention of the enlisted personnel and let them know of their value, and how valuable they could be to the VFW if they were eligible to join. The local chapter needs new blood, Dean said.

“I’m getting old,” said Dean, who also spent 23 years at the Hamlet armory and 16 more in Rockingham. “My buddy (Evans) over there’s already old.”

Membership dues are $35 per year, and only $25 to join the men’s or women’s auxiliary units, Dean said. Meacham said in order to be eligible to join either auxiliary, an individual must be a direct descendant of someone who is eligible to join the VFW.

Evans noted that outreach efforts like Saturday’s dinner helps to show the community that membership in military service organizations in general, and Post 4203 in particular, is more than about sitting around a bar and drinking. It is, most definitely, a social outfit — one, Evans said, that can pair veterans from different generations at the same table with similar experiences.

 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, News

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