With a deadly firefight raging, five men hopped into a Humvee and rode toward a small mountainside village in Afghanistan looking for a four-man team of U.S. forces that had gone missing in combat.
The possibility that all five men wouldn’t make it out of the village of Ganjgal, in Kunar province, was high. Already, multiple Afghan troops the Americans were training had been cut down by machine-gun fire in a fierce ambush that was launched about dawn on Sept. 8, 2009. U.S. Army officers at nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce had declined to send air support in a timely fashion, leaving coalition forces on the ground scrambling for their lives.
The Americans in that vehicle were Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, Marine 1st Lt. Ademola Fabayo and Army Capt. Will Swenson. They were joined by an interpreter for the unit who already had volunteered to man a gun turret in the battle as Meyer scrambled on foot to help Afghan soldiers who were wounded and still under fire.
Meyer, now a sergeant in the Individual Ready Reserve, received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. Rodriguez-Chavez, now a gunnery sergeant, and Fabayo, now a captain, received the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor in honoring combat valor. Swenson was nominated for the Medal of Honor by the Army, and may still eventually receive it, despite the military launching an investigation into why it was stalled by his chain of command.
The interpreter’s fate was different. Four years later, he is still in Afghanistan waiting for a State Department visa that will allow him to start over in the U.S. The situation has frustrated Meyer to no end, leading him to a media campaign in recent weeks to bring attention to the issue.
The latest appearance was on Fox News yesterday. His interpreter — identified as “Hafez” to protect his identity — is scared that insurgents will get him in Afghanistan, Meyer said.
“In the vehicle that day… there were five of us,” Meyer said. “There was one Medal of Honor awarded, Swenson is up for a Medal of Honor, [there were]two Navy Crosses, and this guy can’t even get a visa?”
Meyer said the U.S., by not helping individuals like his interpreter, will make it less likely others will help the military in the future.
“These guys have done so much,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times an interpreter has kept me out of a bad situation and probably saved lives. If you keep doing this, people will stop helping you.”
The four-man U.S. team that went missing was eventually found shot to death and was recovered. At least eight Afghan troops and another Afghan interpreter also were killed in the battle, according to military documents outlining what happened that day.