A soldier's quest to save Iraqi, Afghan interpreters
Targeted by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, they find a haven in America.
Army Lt. Jason Faler stood in the Baghdad airport at 3 a.m. trying to absorb his sister's words over Iraq's scratchy cellphone network. His wife was in labor thousands of miles away in New Jersey, and now, his sister said, the baby was in distress.Skip to next paragraph
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The phone clicked off. The minutes crawled by. A generator's growl mixed with the cracks of a distant firefight. Finally, his phone rang. This time it was Lieutenant Faler's mother. A healthy baby boy had arrived without a scratch.
Like any new father, Faler spread the news. He dialed Walid, his interpreter and friend. "I've got a little boy," he recalls shouting. "You could hear them all cheering" in Walid's operations center.
The bonds forged with Walid and other interpreters have pulled Faler into an unexpected direction: personal philanthropy.
Besides his day job with a West Coast healthcare provider and daily duties as an Army reservist, he has worked tirelessly to help Iraqi and Afghan military interpreters come to the United States.
The results are small-scale, so far.
Over a year after they first sought to escape Iraq, Walid and two other interpreters who worked with Faler have arrived with their families. They all live near him in Oregon now. He brings their kids to doctor's appointments, takes them shopping, helps open bank accounts for them, and tries to find them jobs.
A married couple from Afghanistan, facing homelessness in San Francisco, contacted Faler last year. He convinced them to move to the cheaper environs of Oregon and helped them find odd jobs, pay the rent for a few months, and took them to Wal-Mart to buy household basics. Now the couple is on the East Coast and self-supporting.
"I feel like what I'm doing with this foundation, it's personal, but like I'm repaying a debt owed by this nation," says Faler. "Countless scores of interpreters have paid with blood. This threat is not theoretical or notional in any way."
Insurgents hunt down anyone working with the US military or government – calling them traitors – and regularly kill, kidnap, or attack them and their families.
But Faler says he is ill-suited to run a charitable organization.
"I'm not comfortable asking for money," says the man with a soft voice and tendency for thoughtful pauses before speaking. "If we've raised $40,000, I'd be surprised."
He says he doesn't have nearly enough money for all the requests he receives. His goal is to raise enough to pass the foundation on to someone who can run it fulltime – and keep it going when he is deployed again to Iraq next year.