Former Afghanistan Interpreter Proud To Serve In U.S. Army
by Laura Levering, U.S. Army Signal School
February 10, 2023
Every soldier has a story to tell of their
life and reasons for joining the military. But few, if any, have one
close to that of 2nd Lt. Ahmad Rashid Mahmoodi.
Left - Second Lt. Ahmad Rashid Mahmoodi proudly displays his diploma following a ceremony honoring graduates of the Signal Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Gordon, Georgia on January, 20, 2023. Right - U.S. Army Spc. Ahmad Rashid Mahmoodi in 2019 following his swearing in as a United States citizen. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from photos from Laura
Levering, U.S. Army Signal School, and U.S. Army Second Lt.
Ahmad Rashid Mahmoodi.)
Born and raised in Afghanistan, the thought
of joining the U.S. military did not cross Mahmoodi’s mind until
early adulthood. Struggling to survive in a warzone, and with his
parents’ permission, he began working as an interpreter for U.S.
forces during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008. He was 17 at the
time and had dreams of becoming a doctor, but those dreams would
change as the cost of war began taking its toll.
“We were poor, so I literally got this job
as an interpreter so I could make money in order to help my mom and
help feed my family,” Mahmoodi said.
The first few years
were particularly rough. Aware that he was taking a significant risk
by working for the U.S. government, Mahmoodi’s family pleaded with
him to quit his job. But he resisted.
“I told my family, ‘If
these U.S. troops came from the other side of the earth to help
Afghanistan, why shouldn’t I help them?’ My family agreed, and I
continued helping,” he said.
As his involvement with U.S.
forces continued and the war against the Taliban evolved, Mahmoodi
proved himself a tremendous asset. In 2011, he was transferred to
his hometown of Kabul where he began working for North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Ministry of Interior translating
leaders’ documents and interpreting meetings. He also enrolled in
college, giving up his first dream of becoming a doctor and instead
pursued his second option: political science. Despite the demands of
being an interpreter, going to college, and encountering death
threats, Mahmoodi succeeded in earning his bachelors degree.
It was also during this time that Mahmoodi learned he was
eligible to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), which would
allow him to go to the U.S., if approved. It was something he not
previously considered because he had no idea that being an
interpreter could lead to such an opportunity. One of Mahmoodi’s
longtime American allies, a now-retired colonel, encouraged Mahmoodi
to apply and sponsored him.
“That’s when I said, ‘If I ever
make it to the U.S., I am joining the Army,’” Mahmoodi said.
Feeling hopeful, the young Afghan was also anxious.
“Throughout this time as an interpreter, I was followed to my house,
people came to my house … when you work for the U.S. government, you
are a big target for the enemy, and they were following me and my
family everywhere,” he explained. “We had to keep moving our house
from one place to another place.”
Mahmoodi feared for his
family’s safety even if he was to leave Afghanistan, but he didn’t
let that fear stop him, convinced it would be surrendering to the
enemy if he did. He trusted the process, pressed forward, and in
2016, was approved for his SIV. In September 2016, Mahmoodi moved to
Dallas, Texas, and enlisted in the Army 10 months later as an
automated logistical specialist (92A). Mahmoodi reported to Fort
Carson, Colorado, for his first duty station, with ambitions of
becoming an officer.
“I knew from the beginning that I
wanted to be an officer but had to wait because I didn’t have my
U.S. citizenship,” he said.
On Feb. 21, 2019, Mahmoodi took
a leap closer to fulfilling his goal by being sworn in as a U.S.
citizen while stationed at Fort Carson. Soon after, he submitted a
packet for Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was commissioned in
May 2022. Having spent a significant amount of time as an
alternative communications specialist while enlisted and fascinated
by “new technology,” Mahmoodi’s experiences led him to research –
and ultimately pursue – the Signal Corps.
“I had to work very
hard in OCS to get on top of the (Order of Merit List) to get into
the Signal Branch because everyone wants to be signal, and they only
had three slots for 60-plus people, but I got it,” he said.
And while there were many reasons to celebrate, Mahmoodi could not
fully bask in his accomplishments; not until he knew his family was
safe, which meant getting them out of Afghanistan.
point, the Taliban had taken over the neighborhood in which his
family lived, and his family’s home was raided on the second day.
Former neighbors became Taliban spies, which made his family targets
because they heard about Mahmoodi’s work with the U.S. government.
Mahmoodi had to strategically move his
family from house-to-house, province-to-province, in an effort to
keep them alive – all while from the United States – and still, they
could not escape danger. At one point, the safehouse where his mom,
sister and niece escaped to was compromised. His niece would later
tell Mahmoodi a horrific account of how she was held at gunpoint for
Then in October of last year, there was a major
breakthrough in Mahmoodi’s efforts, and his family – every single
member except for his father – made it to the U.S. and joined him in
Colorado. Sadly, his father passed away from COVID in May 2020.
“He was shot in the head during internal wars, got hit by a
rocket while he was moving our household goods because our town was
on the front line … he survived all of those but dies due to COVID,”
Mahmoodi’s family will soon join him at his
new duty station, Fort Hood, Texas, where he was assigned to 57th
Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Corps Signal Brigade, upon
graduating from the Signal Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort
Gordon, Georgia, on Jan. 20. Now that his family is out of
Afghanistan, Mahmoodi said he can focus his energy on giving back to
the country that gave so much to his.
“Every morning that I
wake up, I thank God that I woke up again, and I always thank the
United States government,” he said. “They helped me, they helped my
family … the Afghan government never helped me.”
there’s no question that the U.S. helped Mahmoodi, those who worked
with him in Afghanistan say that he helped the U.S. just as much, if
Maj. Daniel Harrison was a first lieutenant
assigned to 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, on a
12-month deployment when he met Mahmoodi. Harrison said that
Mahmoodi was a critical member of his team from the very beginning
until the end.
“We spent countless hours working with our
Afghan police and National Army partners in planning, patrolling,
and at times combat,” Harrison said. “He helped us understand the
human terrain as well as the physical, and saved my life more than
once despite his young age at the time.”
In addition to
saving Harrison’s life, the two developed a bond over more
lighthearted experiences such as the occasional soccer game, ping
pong, and electronics.
“I inducted him into the world of
videogames with an Xbox in our Day Room,” Harrison said. “We built a
close mutual bond, and it was rewarding to know that a fan that I
gave him during that year he re-gifted to his mother, who used it
until they left Afghanistan last year.”
To this day, the two
stay in close contact, with Harrison’s own children affectionately
referring to Mahmoodi as “Uncle Rashid.”
“We consider him
family,” Harrison said. “I have found that there is family you are
born into and there is family you choose. We choose him!”
Reflecting on his life’s path, Mahmoodi said he has no regrets and
can’t imagine he would have done anything differently, adding that
his reasons for being an interpreter changed the longer he was in
“I have a lot of good memories and a lot of
very sad memories from that time … I lost a lot of good people,” he
said. “Once I started realizing that the U.S. troops were
sacrificing their lives for Afghanistan, then I was like, ‘I have to
help them even if it costs my life.’ I met great people, and they
became like brothers to me, and we all fought together.”
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