Family of KIA Iraqi interpreter celebrates first Christmas in America
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 25, 2018
The family of an Iraqi interpreter killed in action while supporting U.S. Special Forces spent their first Christmas in America after arriving last week in Lincoln, Neb.
Barakat Ali Bashar — known as “Andy” to troops — shielded then-Army Staff Sgt. Jay McBride when a suicide bomber detonated his vest during a vehicle search near the Syrian border in September 2007.
His last words to McBride were: “Take care of my son. Take care of my wife.”
So, when Andy’s family of ethnic Yazidis was forced to flee their home near Mount Sinjar in 2014 to escape the Islamic State and ended up in a camp for displaced people in northern Iraq, his old Special Forces comrades joined an effort to bring them to the United States.
The troops wrote letters supporting the family’s application for immigration visas that spoke of the debt they owed Andy and his bravery in combat.
This month the soldiers’ pleas were answered, and the family was granted immigrant visas under a program for relatives of linguists who have worked with U.S. forces.
Andy’s brother, Aziz, spoke in a telephone interview Friday about the family’s happiness upon arriving in America.
Aziz, 31, arrived in Lincoln Dec. 19 with Andy’s widow, Laila, 31, son, Kinan, 11, and mother, Tekoz, 62. He also brought his own wife, Aliefa, 27; daughter, Karen, 5 months; and 4-year-old son, who is also named Andy.
Aziz had some warm words for Andy’s battle buddies who supported the family.
“They did a lot for us and everything they did in their efforts is appreciated and we will never forget how they helped us,” he said.
“It’s a safe life in America. We are happy we got out. Now we want our kids to have a good education and for us to find work,” he said.
The family members haven’t met the troops who helped them, but they hope to get together soon.
“Right before we left Iraq, I spoke to some of them. Some are very excited and want to visit us,” Aziz said.
A soldier who wrote in support of the family’s visa applications, Army Master Sgt. Todd West, said the news that Andy’s extended family is in America was “like Christmas [came] early this year.”
McBride, who served three tours to Iraq in 2003-09 with the 10th Special Forces Group, told Stars and Stripes earlier that he owes Andy his life and was willing to host his family in his home. He didn’t immediately respond to emails but he’s heard the good news, according to Hadi Pir, another Iraqi linguist who is hosting Andy’s family at his Lincoln home until they find their own place.
Pir said they would have plenty of support in Lincoln.
The town is home to about 3,000 Yazidis, the largest community of the ethnic minority in the United States.
Christmas isn’t celebrated by Yazidis in Iraq, but Pir said the family was enjoying the holiday atmosphere and thinking of the Special Forces soldiers who helped them.
“For the last four years I was in contact with [the soldiers]. Whenever we needed a letter of recommendation they helped. We are glad and happy that our friends did not forget about him and they cared,” he said.
The Army says no one should be left behind.
“I felt like my friend’s family was left behind,” he said, “but they have proved that nobody should be left behind.”