Afghan Man, Who Left Kabul As A Child, Returned To Afghanistan As A U.S. Marine
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. Ajmal Achekzai was 5 years old when his family fled Kabul. It was 1980, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They were among the first Afghans to seek asylum in the United States. Ajmal later returned to Afghanistan just after 9/11 as a U.S. Marine. He came to StoryCorps to reflect on that time.
AJMAL ACHEKZAI: I told myself I was going to go back to Afghanistan, but never thought I would go back in time of war, one of the first 300 boots-on-ground Marines. And when I returned to Kabul, my birth city, I was trying to teach the Marines about the Afghan culture. And then I was teaching the Afghans about the military and what we were about. Being the only one that spoke the language, I became friends with a lot of the locals, and they would bring food. Like, my mom made some food for you. They saw me as one of their own.
Afghan people are one of the most honorable and hospitable people in the world. I was right there between two cultures that I love. And it was a lot of emotion from both ends. (Crying) And then the image of leaving Bagram Airport, I could see the whole city - desert, huge Afghan flag. Afghanistan, to me, is my motherland - beauty, poetry. And they're survivors. That's what they are. Forty years of war, they wake up every day, dust the dirt off their shoulder and keep going.
We told them that we're here for their safety. We're here to make sure that they progress. But I feel like I failed the Afghan people because I lied to them. (Crying) I had to escape just like them. I joined the service basically to serve the country that allowed me to come. And as I've gotten older, I've realized what my part in this world is. It's to help others. It's the rent we pay to live in this country. If there was something I would say to the people of Afghanistan that are waiting to come, I'm sorry. We failed you, but keep hope alive. Always fight until you get that freedom again.
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MARTIN: Marine Corporal Ajmal Achekzai for StoryCorps in Los Angeles. He served two tours in Afghanistan and was honorably discharged in 2004. He has family and friends who are still there trying to get out. His interview will be archived at the Library of Congress.
(SOUNDBITE OF FREDRIK'S "MILO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.