The Good Stuff: Run for freedom
An Afghan interpreter’s escape to Louisiana
BOSSIER CITY, La. (KSLA) - Jay, a 32-year-old, works out and jogs through his new Bossier City neighborhood every day.
“The neighborhood, the buildings, the houses are very beautiful,” he shared as he took off on another mid-day run.
At least for now, Jay is staying with an old friend he first met back in 2007. They met in Afghanistan when Jay was only 17 years old.
“I can’t even explain what it’s like there, it’s so bizarre,” Tony Matteson began, sharing about when he first met Jay after the former ArkLaTex sheriff deputy was deployed to Afghanistan, in a civilian role, to help train Afghan officers.
Jay served as a translator to Matteson’s team and many others through the years. Tony worked in the country for four years before returning to Louisiana, but through the years he’s kept in contact with Jay.
“I’ve been trying to get him over here for 10 years, but there’s been hurdle after hurdle after hurdle from the State Department,” explained Matterson growing more worried about Jay, especially after the Taliban began resuming control of the country earlier this year.
“I knew if they took Kabul, they were going to kill him,” Matteson said. That concern is shared by most Afghans who have ever worked with U.S. troops, in any capacity, during the United States’ 20 years in that country — including Jay who says his father was killed by Taliban fighters when he was just a boy.
“On the way to American bases, they stopped their truck,” explains Jay who says his father was stopped by the Taliban while delivering needed items to American bases.
“When they realize this stuff was being given to an American base, they killed him,” shared Jay.
So at the young age of 17, and the eldest child in his family, he knew he needed to work to help support his family.
Jay says his family supported his goal of making it to the United States, with hopes of one day safely having his entire family join him.
As evacuations ramped up this summer, Matteson knew time was running out to help rescue his former translator from the Taliban.
“I was getting phone calls telling me if I don’t quit my job, I might be killed,” shared Jay.
Matteson says he wrote a letter on behalf of Jay to the President of the United States and a number of lawmakers, including U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson.
“He was a known and trusted ally who put his life in jeopardy to assist our troops,” said Representative Johnson whose office got involved, and according to Matteson, “moved mountains” to get Jay out of Afghanistan.
With just days before President Biden’s self-imposed withdrawal deadline, Jay decided to the time had come for a run for freedom to the Kabul airport.
“I saw thousands of people around the airport,” he explained where, sadly, many people were losing hope of ever making it onto a plane out of the country.
He said once he reached one of the gates guarded by members of the U.S. military, he began waving his documents proving he qualified to board a plane based on his work with Americans through the years.
Knowing Congressman Johnson’s office had gotten involved, including writing an email to the top officials on his behalf, Jay says he made sure he wrote Johnson’s name on his documents.
And it’s something he says got the attention of at least one of those U.S. servicemembers, allowing him inside the airport walls.
“It was the happiest moment,” smiled Jay.
“I feel like I just got out of hell to the heavens.”
Just hours after Jay boarded a plane out of Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed dozens, including 13 U.S. servicemembers.
“I’m so happy he’s here and safe,” added Matteson who is having Jay live in his south Bossier City home until Jay is able to live on his own.
As for Jay’s run for freedom, he can finally slow down and enjoy those daily jogs around the neighborhood.
“Everybody has a dream to make it to the United States,” shared Jay. “It’s still a dream for people all over the globe.”
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