If you watched the State of the Union Speech on February 7, you might have noticed an Afghan man, Shams Rahmani, seated in the balcony. Shams was site manager for a Defense Department contractor in Afghanistan and had spent a year hiding from the Taliban, which wanted to kill him.
Tonight, on VBC Happy Hour, we talk with Iraqi Interpreter (now US Marine) Mike Azad, Iraq War veteran and Marine Corps infantry officer Jeff Phaneuf, and interpreter advocate Doug Livermore. All are leaders of No One Left Behind (NOLB), the veterans-founded nonprofit that got Shams and his family out of Afghanistan last December.
Getting interpreter allies out of Afghanistan and Iraq is a priority for many of the US veterans who served with these indispensable partners on the ground in war. Much like in Vietnam, when the Fall of Saigon meant the incarceration — or worse — of the South Vietnamese who supported the US war effort, our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan face retribution in their home countries as a result of their service.
For Shams to escape the Taliban, he needed a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), which normally involves a long and complicated bureaucratic process. Just before the Fall of Kabul in 2021, there were still over 10,000 waiting for approval for SIVs.
The process has been sped up and simplified in order to bring Afghan interpreters and their families to US shores. No One Left Behind was instrumental in advocating for these changes and in helping evacuate deserving SIV applicants to safety. The organization also provides resettlement assistance to help them start new lives as Americans.
NOLB has served thousands in their ongoing escape from danger in Afghanistan and has served thousands in the US who are now our neighbors across the country. Learn about what NOLB does, from facilitating escape to advocating for interpreters in Washington.
Doug Livermore is on the Board of Directors of No One Left Behind. Mike Azad is NOLB Ambassador serving SIVs in California. Jeff Phaneuf is recent Advocacy Director of NOLB.
Join us for a conversation about what we owe our allies in our military efforts around the world.