This Afghan man served 3 years as a translator for the military — now he's a US Marine
While some children grow up with aspirations to become scientists, professional athletes, or actors, Mohammad Nadir’s goal was to become a United States Marine, stemming from an early childhood amid a strong military presence.
As the sixth of ten siblings, Nadir grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he constantly lived among uniformed personnel.
“My mom would tell me stories about the military when I was younger, my father was a cop with the Afghan police . . . and many people welcomed the Americans, even during times of strife,” Nadir explained.
Intrigued by the lifestyle, Nadir’s curiosity for the military grew after he graduated high school and discovered several private companies hiring Afghan locals.
“They were hiring Afghan locals to work as interpreters for the International Security Assistance Force,” said Nadir. “This was my chance to be around the military.”
Under the impression Nadir would be safe, his family wished him well as he left to the Sangin District of Helmand province, Afghanistan, in October 2011, where he spent the next three years working with multiple operational units and serving as a key influencer to the community.
“I told my family it was a nice job and would be safe, but they didn’t know it was nothing like that. . . It was the worst place,” said Nadir.
Although translators play a crucial role for the U.S. military, many Afghan-born employees are branded a traitor by the Taliban and other groups for working with the U.S.
“We were the ears and eyes of ISAF,” Nadir recalls. “I was serving my country and also the United States. I felt great. But you could see the distance between the locals and the U.S. personnel.”
Nadir recalls the apprehensive nature of locals whenever Americans traveled to a new area in their country.
“They’d initially be scared and then realize we were here for good reasons. We would explain everything in their language and made them understand,” said Nadir. “We brought them closer together.”
Nadir’s responsibilities lied heavily with bridging the language and cultural gaps between locals and U.S. service members who needed the community to understand their presence.
Educating the Afghan police about improvised explosive devices and operational safety were other key tasks Nadir appreciated doing to heighten overall protection of Americans and Afghans in the area.
“It was something I really liked doing and I felt good when I got a chance to work with the Afghan police,” Nadir commented.
As an interpreter, Nadir also had the opportunity to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa, which helps provide protection for translators and their families to migrate to the U.S. after their service.
Through this program, Nadir took his first steps on American soil on Nov 10, 2014, the Marine Corps’ much-celebrated birthday, and set forth on his journey to become a United States Marine.
“I told my family I was going to come to America and become a Marine, so I did,” said Nadir.
Nadir traveled to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he stayed with Marine Corps Maj. Mark Nicholson, a former administration adviser for the Afghan National Police Advisory Team with Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan.
“We met him at the airport and brought him to our home,” said Nicholson. “Nadir helped us out when we needed him. He had been in some pretty dangerous situations, but was as good as they got. Interpreters put themselves in a lot of danger, more than we do.”
Nicholson built a strong bond with Nadir and other interpreters as he supervised a majority of the administrative tasks handled for these employees. The type of relationship between the interpreters and U.S. service members require a lot of trust and reliability.
“Nadir is a really smart guy,” said Nicholson. “We relied on interpreters for our safety and knowledge of the culture. I trusted him with my life.”
Nadir found work soon thereafter to help support his family back home. He also took lessons to help improve his English fluency and prepare for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
“My English was terrible, so I had to study,” Nadir joked. “I moved to Anaheim, Calif., with a friend and that’s when I met a Marine recruiter, Sgt. William Soukthavong.”
Nadir enlisted in February 2017 and recently graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on May 26, 2017.
“I watched the movie Full Metal Jacket, but when I arrived it was totally different,” said Nadir. “Receiving company was so easy, then we met our actual drill instructors and they ‘destroyed our house.’ I thought, ‘Oh my god, I wasn’t expecting that!’ It was very different and I believe mentally it was easier for me since I’ve been in stressful situations. I tried my best and worked as hard as I could.”
He added that living in the rugged environment of Afghanistan with the mountainsides helped him physically as well, a “I was good at the hikes,” said Nadir, a quality truly needed for the demanding terrain recruits endure at boot camp.
Looking back at the 13 weeks spent at recruit training, Nadir says it was tough but his memories of Marines in his home of Afghanistan are the inspiration for him moving forward for training as an infantryman.
“When I saw the Marines fighting I knew I wanted to do that,” said Nadir. “They are the brute force for a military and I respect them a lot for what I saw those Marines do in Afghanistan.”
Nadir has lived a life of service and becoming a Marine has given him another opportunity to serve, one which he has undoubtedly earned.
“I love Nadir like a brother,” said Nicholson. “I’m very excited that he is now a U.S. Marine.”
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