Two veterans’ wartime friendship helped a family escape the Taliban for a new life in Arizona

When you face certain things in life, when you go through a dangerous situation, it builds an undying bond. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s like it can’t be broken.

I had done a lot of studying before I went to Kabul. I knew I was going into a combat zone. But when it came to meeting people, I didn’t know what to expect.

We were there to advise the Afghan Air Force. My first night there, we were rocket attacked. It was like, “Welcome to Afghanistan.”

An alarm would sound. People called it “the giant voice.” Because it was on speaker systems. It would say, “Incoming, incoming. Wooo, wooo.” The first time you’re scared shitless. Your heart’s jumping out of your chest. Then it just becomes business as usual. You’re numb to it after that.

You’re very lost, you’re in a country you’ve never been to. It’s a very dangerous place. Trust is a major issue. And how you can learn to overcome those fears and build trust. You must be able to build a relationship.

I got there in October 2014 and I met Hazem in mid-November, maybe around Thanksgiving. I’d heard he was a good man. Former advisers told me, “You can trust him.”

The day I learned he could speak English, that’s how it all began right there. We could communicate directly without an interpreter. Our relationship just grew tenfold. I could call him on the phone. I could say, “Hazem, how are you?” I’d bring him over to our base. I would have him come over to the campfires at night, have him come around and break bread. We were able to build a personal relationship.

We would talk about our families. I met his children. We’d talk about home — families, cultural differences, like we wanted to learn and respect one another.

We had a projector that we would put up. We would watch movies on the walls — “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Rambo 3.” We played games on an Xbox. We’d do other dumb stuff… see how far one of us could throw a big rock — who’s the strongest, you know. I’d show pictures of my kids. “Look what they did today” … “Oh look, they carved pumpkins on Halloween” … “Here they are at Christmas.” That type of stuff.

I have had a hard time finding a true relationship in America, compared to the working relationship I had with him in Afghanistan. It was completely different. Once we determined we could trust each other, there was nothing that could stop us.