Who We Are
Noorullah Aziz immigrated to the United States two years ago on a Special Immigrant Visa and settled in San Diego. He is safe now, employed, and has made new friends, but his smile is slow. Every day he worries for the safety of his family back in Afghanistan and hopes they too will be able to join him here in the U.S. one day.
“I used to smile a lot, but now I hear about more and more of my people being killed back there,” Noorullah explains.
Noorullah recalls being 12 years old when, in 1996, the Taliban showed up at his family home and demanded they hand over any weapons. The Taliban was currently fighting with Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance Forces (NAF) and Noorullah’s two older brothers were soldiers with the NAF. When Noorullah’s father told the Taliban the family had no weapons the Taliban demanded money instead and took the family’s life savings. As a result, Noorullah and the rest of the family – ten members in all – spent the next years living in poverty, eating only bread three times a day.
Barely a teenager, Noorullah worked all day to keep the family supplied in 7 kilograms (about 15 pounds) of wheat for their daily meals. Two weeks after his father’s first arrest, Taliban soldiers surrounded the house and arrested his father a second time. “Instead of going to school, me and my siblings were working from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the evening,” Noorullah says.
Harassment at the hands of the Taliban persisted and Noorullah’s father was “arrested” twice. Shortly after his father was released from his second imprisonment the family fled to Pakistan where Noorullah and his sibling wove carpets to survive. Following the 9/11 attacks the family returned to Afghanistan.
“I decided to go back to school as well to start learning English,” Noorullah added. After he learned English well enough, Noorullah landed a job as an interpreter working with coalition forces to help train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). “I wanted to help our people,” Noorullah explains. “I became a translator to help the international forces build the country.”
Once the new Afghan National Army units were trained, Noorullah accompanied them as they deployed onto the battlefield alongside coalition forces. Noorullah was shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Army and Marine units for three years from 2005 to 2008 and suffered multiple combat injuries.
Each day out in the field, Noorullah battled with the fear of being attacked by the Taliban, “the beast,” as he called it; but he didn’t clarify if “the beast” was in reference to the Taliban or the fear. “Their religion [of the Taliban] is to kill humans,” Noorullah says.
The most dangerous situation Noorullah found himself in was during an ambush by the Taliban in the Spera District of Khost Province. Two men in his unit were killed and eight injured, including a U.S. Army sergeant.
Noorullah was standing right next to the U.S. soldier when the Sergeant took a bullet to the neck. A U.S. officer, LT. Webster, helped Noorullah and another colleague to get to cover behind a large boulder, even though the Lieutenant was badly injured himself having taken around to his leg. “We managed to stop the Lieutenant’s bleeding with toilet paper.”
While working with the American forces, Noorullah rarely had a “day off” and had to be prepared 24/7 to either conduct training operations or go out on a patrol. The only downtime he enjoyed was hanging out in the military camp rec room playing cards with his friends or going to the gym.
Even when Noorullah did get a few days off to go home he remained on high alert. Danger lurked around every corner – the insurgents had eyes and ears everywhere and even taking local taxis was risky as most of the drivers had affiliations with the insurgency.
Eventually, the insurgency began to specifically target the interpreters working for the U.S. military and ran great campaigns to convince the Afghan people that the translators were spies and traitors, even convincing the masses that civilian casualties that occurred during military operations were the fault of the translators. Soon, Noorullah found himself in the crosshairs of the insurgency and knew he had to fell Afghanistan or he would be murdered. Noorullah lived in virtual hiding as he endured the two-year process of applying for a Special Immigrant Visa to immigrate to the United States.
Once in America, although physically safe, his struggles were far from over. “The most difficult thing is living alone and in poverty,” Noorullah says. “I had no job, my family was 10,000 miles away… if something happened to me only God would know.”
That is where No One Left Behind (NOLB) has stepped in. Ironically, Noorrulah learned of the organization via a friend who was still in Afghanistan and got in touch with NOLB’s local San Diego Chapter via their Facebook page.
NOLB volunteers helped Noorullah build his resume and taught him how to search for jobs using the internet – a novel concept for Afghans. The organization also hosts free Job Skills Workshops several times a year and invited Noorullah to attend the next workshop. As a result, he found part-time work as a security guard for a major downtown San Diego hotel and he also delivers packages for Amazon.
Noorullah now feels like he is successfully making a home here in the U.S., but he still misses his homeland.
“Afghanistan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world but so much of it is chaos. The best thing about my neighborhood here in the U.S. is that it’s quiet – nice a calm,” Noorullah says with a content smile.
Noorullah now works as a security guard in the US.