Afghan interpreter who helped save Marine officer's life gets visa to US

By HOWARD ALTMAN | Tampa (Fla.) Tribune | Published: October 11, 2013

Many people are troubled by the prospect of a long-term houseguest.

But not at the Tampa Palms home of Ty and Anna Edwards.

That’s because the future houseguest is a man Edwards has been trying to bring into the country for the last four years.

The man who saved his life.

“I am just ecstatic,” said Edwards, 43, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “It has been such a long time.”

On Wednesday, Edwards, who now uses a wheelchair after being paralyzed by a Taliban bullet on Oct. 18, 2008, received an email from Afghanistan. It was sent by his former interpreter, called “Farhad” here because of concerns about the safety of he and his family.

“Brother,” Farhad wrote to Edwards. “Went to the Embassy today and picked up my visa. I am going to travel agency tonight and book my tickets...”

Now it looks like Farhad will arrive in the U.S. almost five years to the day since he helped save Edwards’ life.

For Edwards, the message from Kabul announced the culmination of years of hard work. Though wounded and suffering from traumatic brain injury, Edwards spent many hours during a difficult convalescence making phone calls, writing letters and sending emails to friends, colleagues, and those in a position to help, like members of his Congressional delegation.

Farhad received a medal for repeatedly risking his life to help save Edwards by dodging enemy fire and using his own body to shield his wounded commander. In 2009, Farhad applied for two special immigrant visas under the Afghan Allies Protection Act, one for interpreters and one for those who worked for the U.S. government.

Farhad, now 30, received approval for his request from the chief of mission in Kabul nearly two years ago. His brother, also an interpreter, was already approved and came to the United States and enlisted in the Army.

Late last month, after several calls and emails from The Tribune to Congressmembers and the State Department, Farhad received a letter from the embassy saying the administrative process is “almost done.” But despite all that, and the campaign by Edwards — with help from retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. J.D. Lynch, Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Dennis Ross and Mark Van Trees of Support Our Troops — Farhad was still stuck in Kabul.

That seemed to change Wednesday, with news that his visa was approved.

The State Department doesn’t comment on individual cases. But Farhad was happy to talk.

“I was very excited and seemed unbelievable when saw my visa,” Farhad wrote Thursday in an email from Kabul. “I feel great but worried about my family, specially my mom, She is suffering from stroke for the last four months. I am so thankful to all those military and civilian friends who has helped me in this process. I am feeling I am moving to the people whom are like family to me.”

Though he has booked a ticket for Atlanta, where he will arrive next week to stay with his brother before coming to Tampa at the end of the month, Farhad has yet to tell his mother.

“Very few people knows about my visa,” said Farhad, “I haven’t told my mom yet because she will get sad and her blood pressure may go higher.”

As of last month, while there were more than 8,000 visas available for Afghan interpreters, only about 1,200 had been granted. A similar program for Iraqi interpreters was just renewed by Congress.

Edwards and Farhad say that there seems to have been an increase of late in the number of interpreters being granted visas.

Edwards chalks that up in part to the rash of negative publicity the State Department received over the delays.

“I am willing to bet (The Tribune) had a lot to do with it, asking the questions, getting him on the priority list,” said Edwards, who thanked those who worked for years with him to bring Farhad to America.

“It was a team effort,” he said, adding that he is angry it took so much to bring someone into the country who did so much.

“It is a shame it has to be like that,’ he said.

Nelson and Ross, who both reached out to the State Department on Farhad’s behalf, expressed happiness that he is finally on his way.

Farhad “risked his life to save Lt. Col. Edwards while he served in Afghanistan,” said Ross. “After an arduously long process, I am so pleased to hear that (Farhad) has received his visa to come to the United States. This is fantastic news.”

“Glad we could help someone who’s helped America,” said Nelson.

Edwards said Farhad, scheduled to arrive in Tampa at the end of the month, can stay as long as he likes. The medically retired Marine said he is also working his network to find a job for Farhad, who speaks fluent English, Dari, Pashtu and Urdo and possesses strong computer skills.

The Edwards family is already familiar with what it is like to have an Afghan adult move into their home.

In December, they temporarily took in another interpreter who was friends with Farhad.

“We are happy to do this,” he said. “He saved my life.”

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