Finding his way

Former Afghan interpreter for U.S. troops hopes family can immigrate to South Park

By Cynthia Robertson

Imagine that the Taliban is trying to find you in Afghanistan where you live so that they can murder you. Now imagine that you have to leave your friends, family and everything you know back in your homeland and move to another country. That is the reality for many of the interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq who chose to help U.S. troops fight the enemy in their homeland.

Such is the case with South Park resident Noorullah Aziz, who moved to the United States two years ago. He is safe now, employed, and has made new friends, but his smile is slow. Every day he hopes for his family to be able to move out here soon.

Noorullah Aziz (center) talks about his experiences as a military interpreter. Author Amanda Matti and No One Left Behind CEO Matthew Makowski listen during the Aug. 6 event. (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

“I used to smile a lot. It was my hobby. But now I hear more and more of my people being killed back there,” said Aziz, who was one of the main speakers at a fundraiser event on Aug. 6 for No One Left Behind, an organization that helps newly arrived interpreters seeking refuge.

Aziz’s story begins when he was 12 years old as the Taliban was occupying Afghanistan in 1996. His two older brothers had been fighting in the Northern Alliance Forces against the Taliban, who eventually demanded weapons left behind by Aziz’s brothers, but they had none. So the Taliban took money from the family instead. As a result, all 10 of the family members lived in poverty, eating only bread three times a day.

Aziz worked nine hours a day to get 7 kilograms (about 15 pounds) of wheat to feed the family. Two weeks after his father’s first arrest, Taliban soldiers surrounded the house and arrested his father a second time.

The goodwill of an elderly man who was a cook for the Taliban helped the family to escape, and they fled to Pakistan where they lived for five years. Aziz and his siblings wove carpet to survive.

“Instead of going to school, me and my other siblings were working from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the evening,” Aziz said.

After the Northern Alliance leader known as the Great Massoud, Cmdr. Ahmed Shah Massoud, was assassinated in 2001, two days before the 9/11 attack, his father chose to return to Afghanistan.

“I decided to go back to school as well to start learning English,” Aziz said.

After he learned English well enough, he discovered many opportunities as an interpreter and translator with the Joint Task Force and the International Security Assistance Force to help build and train Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF).

“For that reason, I loved to see our countries’ army and the police to rule the law and build our country. I joined to work as an interpreter/translator in order to help the international forces build our ANSF and the country,” Aziz said.

As a translator, he was assigned to an Embedded Training Team to help train the Afghan National Army and fight in the field. Aziz said he was in the war for three years from 2005 to 2008 and injured three times.

Noorulah Aziz (left) with a team of officers from the Afghan National Army and the U.S. Army with whom he worked in multiple counter terrorist operations in Afghanistan (Courtesy of Noorulah Aziz)

Each day out in the field, Aziz battled with the fear of being attacked by the Taliban, “the beast,” as he called it.

“Their religion [of the Taliban] is to kill humans,” Aziz said.

The most dangerous situation Aziz found himself in was during an ambush by the Taliban in the Spera District in the Khost Province where two men were killed and eight injured, including a U.S. Army sergeant.

The sergeant was right next to Aziz and got shot in his neck, and another officer, a Lt. Webster, who was badly injured in a leg and ear, helped Aziz and another colleague get under a big rock. They were able to stop the lieutenant’s bleeding with toilet paper.

“You had to be prepared 24 hours to go out either for training or for a fight, which was happening every day, and there was high possibilities of IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” Aziz said.

The only downtime that Aziz enjoyed was hanging out on the military base with his friends, playing cards or going to the gym.

Danger lurked everywhere, even as he would travel home during vacation using local taxis, because most of the drivers had affiliations with the insurgents.

When Aziz finished his work as an interpreter, he had to flee to the United States because the insurgents and many other Afghani people believed that the translators who worked for the U.S. Army were spies or traitors. They believed that the civilian casualties during military operations often happened because of the translators.

“Also most of the insurgents who were arrested in the operations we participated [in] were released [by] the president of Afghanistan [and] that’s why I decided to leave the country to survive,” Aziz said.

Though he would be safe in his passage to the U.S via a special immigrant visa, the move was overwhelming for Aziz.

“The most difficult thing is living alone and in poverty without having anyone, and being far away from my family. If something happened to me, except for God, I have no one to take care of me,” he said.

That is where No One Left Behind (NOLB) has stepped in. Aziz got in touch with people in that organization via their Facebook page.

NOLB helped him create his own Facebook page for job searching and offered Mirza Aziz a free job interview workshop. As a result, he found work as a security officer for a major downtown hotel and he delivers packages for Amazon.

Aziz is making a home here in the U.S., but he misses his homeland.

“Afghanistan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And I have been to other places like France,” he said.

“The good thing about South Park is it’s a quiet, nice and calm neighborhood and I’m glad I have the best landlord and good neighbors,” he said.

For information on how to volunteer with San Diego Chapter of NOLB, go online to

— Cynthia Robertson is a local freelance writer.

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