An Afghan interpreter who served alongside the US military is celebrating his first Fourth of July as a citizen.
Janis Shinwari, 42, served as a translator for nine years on the battlefield in his native Afghanistan, risking his life and endangering his family to assist US forces.
In that span of time, Shinwari saved several American soldiers, including one who helped move Shinwari and his family to the US.
He recalled the decision to fight against the standing regime in his own country, after seeing firsthand the terrors of the Taliban. He knew the US forces needed interpreters, but he also realized the immense risk that the job posed to him and his family.
“If the Taliban catch you, they will torture you in front of your kids and families and make a film of you and then send it to other translators as a warning message to stop working with the American forces,” Shinwari said.
During one particularly fierce battle in 2008 , Shinwari saved the life of Captain Matt Zeller, an American soldier he’d met just a few days earlier. Zeller had been knocked out when a mortar round exploded, and Shinwari shot and killed two Taliban soldiers who were approaching the American. Shinwari got Zeller to safety, and the rest is history.
“Since that time, we become even closer than brothers,” Shinwari said.
After that, the Taliban put Shinwari on a hit list, and it became more necessary than ever that the interpreter and his family leave Afghanistan. He reached out to Zeller to. help him obtain a US visa, and together the two men worked tirelessly to get Shinwari to the States.
Shinwari and his family finally got a visa in 2013. Once there, Zeller helped the family settle into their new life. He helped Shinwari find a job, buy a car, and adjust to American life. Zeller even set up a GoFundMe that raised $35,000 to help with the Shinwaris’ expenses.
Although Shinwari was able to get out, he’s still fighting for his fellow translators who are still living in grave danger in Afghanistan.
With some of the money raised from the GoFundMe, Shinwari and Zeller created No One Left Behind, a non-profit that has helped thousands of combat translators resettle in the US.
“I will not stop fighting until I get the last translator what’s left behind,” Shinwari said. “I promise them that I will never forget about my brothers and sisters that they are still left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
According to NPR, Shinwari is grateful for his new life. “The best part is you’re safe. You don’t have to worry, you can sleep well. Once you are here, you’re free.”
Earlier this month, Homeland Security Deputy Secretary, Ken Cuccinelli swore-in Shinwari and his wife with the Oath of Allegiance in Fairfax, VA. He also thanked Shinwari for his service and for saving the lives of five US soldiers.
Shinwari’s first Independence Day as a US citizen came with some fanfare from lawmakers across the political spectrum. He was publicly congratulated by Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire, former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and retired Gen. David Petraeus.