An Afghan translator who spent 9 years risking his life to assist U.S. forces in Afghanistan has just celebrated his first Fourth of July as a U.S. citizen.
Although his duties as a translator never required it, Janis Shinwari saved the lives of several American soldiers—and one of them decided to return the favor by offering to bring Shinwari and his family to the U.S.
If he would have stayed in Afghanistan, the translator “wouldn’t be alive today,” he told CNN Heroes in 2018.
Shinwari was aiding U.S. forces over a decade ago because he wanted his country liberated from the terror of Taliban rule. Although he knew he was risking his life, he did what he thought was right for his country.
In 2008, Capt. Matt Zeller was about to die during a battle with Taliban forces, until a man who identified himself as a U.S. translator dragged him out of harm’s way. They may not have known each other before that moment, but the experience forged an unshakable bond.
“Since that time, we become even closer than brothers,” Shinwari said.
With the Taliban in pursuit of Shinwari, Zeller began working furiously to get him a visa so he could leave the country. Initially, they expected the process to only take a couple of months, but it actually took several years. Thanks to Zeller’s persistence gathering signatures on a petition, and meeting with several members of Congress, Shinwari and his family fled to the U.S. in 2013.
Once he arrived, Zeller helped him with every aspect of his new life in America—including raising $35,000 with a GoFundMe campaign.
Shinwari finally became eligible for citizenship this year, and on June 30th, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli administered the oath of allegiance to Shinwari and his wife, officially making them U.S. citizens—just in time to celebrate their new country’s Independence Day.
During the ceremony, Shinwari was thanked for his brave service and saving the lives of 5 Americans.
Though Shinwari is grateful for his life in the U.S., and the kindness from countless strangers, he hasn’t forgotten about the other brave translators in Afghanistan.
He and Zeller started the nonprofit No One Left Behind, which has helped more than 5,000 translators and their families to settle as refugees in the US.
It’s their way of paying back the indebtedness they feel for each other, genuinely believing neither would be here today if not for the other’s care and assistance.