(WASHINGTON) — A year ago, America ended its longest war and withdrew troops from Afghanistan. After occupying the country for two decades, the withdrawal immediately led to a dangerous situation for any U.S. allies still left in the country, who risked retribution from the Taliban.
During the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the bond between two men from opposite worlds proved to be unshakeable and led to the rescue of a desperate family. They are now sharing their experiences in a dual memoir, “Always Faithful.”
After several failed attempts to leave, interpreter Zainullah Zaki, known as Zak, who had worked for the U.S. military for several years in Afghanistan, his wife and their four small children were able to leave Afghanistan safely - with the aid of Marine Corps Maj. Thomas Schueman, who helped from the other side of the world.
Schueman left Afghanistan in 2013, Zak remained in Afghanistan. As the Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital, Schueman said he immediately thought of his friend and began to make calls, texts and social media posts to try to find someone who could help.
Meanwhile, Zak spent days in Kabul working to get the proper documents he needed for himself and his family to come to the United States, as Schueman worked from the United States to devise a strategy to get Zak out of the country, ABC News reported in August 2021.
Finally, Schueman said he found someone at the Kabul International Airport to look for Zak's family and secure spots for them on a plane to Qatar.
Schueman and Zak first met in Helmand Province in 2010. Schueman said that Zak quickly became “family.”
“It quickly became apparent that Zak was there to do so much more than simply translate our words; that he was there to fight alongside us,” said Schueman. “He became one of the members of my platoon, and he was almost immediately family to us.”
Chaos ensued in August 2021, when the U.S. began withdrawing the troops left in Afghanistan after spending nearly two decades in the country.
Zak recalled the onset of the war in 2001 and the first time he saw American soldiers arrive in his country.
“When the Americans came, they were working [to build] Afghanistan. They work for our bright future,” said Zak. “I decided to go and join the U.S. Army and work together, side by side with them.”
Although he was able to help Zak, Schueman said his work is far from over. He is continuing to advocate and push lawmakers to help other U.S. allies safely evacuate.
“I do believe that many people have very good intentions to support our allies,” said Schueman. “It just seems that the red tape to honor some of these promises that we made to the allies sometimes seem nearly insurmountable.”
Schueman said that the two hope that their story can help draw attention to people like Zak and their experiences during the war.
“I think it's important to have that dual narrative perspective where you don't have an American telling what Afghanistan is like,” said Schueman. “You have someone who was born there and raised there. Telling us about their culture, about their religion, about their history. And so I think that's imperative in this type of story.”
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.