Story by Tammie Moore.
In the nine months that passed since the last American plane departed Afghanistan, a handful of former Fort Meade Asymmetric Warfare Group Soldiers have helped more than 400 Afghans safely relocate from the country.
The retired Soldiers came together to support a fledgling non-profit, called Tarjorman, co-founded by a former AWG integration troop sergeant major to help their former Afghan interpreters navigate the immigration process and safely make their way out of the country.
“We initially started working with specific interpreters and their families who we had personal connections to,” said Freddy Gurwell, who was an AWG group operations sergeant major before retiring from the Army. “These were people our members served with, sometimes on multiple tours, and formed very close relationships with. We had met their families, we had eaten together, we had slept in the same rooms.”
The mission of the Tarjorman non-profit grew as more Afghans reached out to the group for help.
“I’m not sure how the word spread, but every email was ‘my friend said I can contact you guys for assistance,’” said Ivor Griffiths, who also served as the AWG Charlie Squadron deputy commander after retiring from the Army. “It went from just helping translators to teachers, entertainers, professors, female prosecutors, a group of Christians, and members of the LGBT community. Whoever knocks on our door. We are going to try our best to help.”
The work the group does often involves talking special immigration visa seekers through complicated paperwork and helping them overcome logistical challenges. The group quickly learned they had to think outside of the box to overcome some of the logistical challenges they faced.
“When this first started, we were in a trapped mindset,” said Gonzalo Lassally, a former AWG Soldier and a retired sergeant major. “We were working in a vacuum. We were trying to move these people and it was labor intensive.”
Lassally had an epiphany when the team was coordinating with a contractor to get supplies to a group of interpreters sheltering in a hotel.
“It occurred to me, while this guy was my interpreter, he was also a contractor for five or six years,” said Lassally, Tarjorman co-founder and chief operating officer. “Another guy in the room was a shopkeeper and did logistics. At that point we started to get away from paying for resources from contractors. When I started saying ‘what can you do in this situation?’ They started throwing us their ideas and we started sending them the money.”
The group used several outside the box solutions to support the Afghans they were moving across the country to safety. This included using interpreter family members who worked at travel agencies to get visas, as well as using public transit drivers to pick up people in danger and moving them to safer areas.
“As we were moving some families and trying to get them clothes for the winter somebody said, you know, if you provide a sewing machine they can make clothes,” said Griffiths, a Tarjorman operations support specialist. “We found out a sewing machine cost $40. So, we got them a sewing machine and they made clothes for all the kids in the family. We really try to help them take care of themselves.”
The group, mostly formed of former AWG members, quickly grew from about a dozen volunteers to more than 50 members.
“Hearing some of the stories and to understand what some of the groups went through that we were helping is pretty life changing,” said Gurwell, Tarjorman media relations officer.
To date the group, which also partners with other veteran organizations, has helped over 400 Afghans relocate to areas including the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Qatar, Australia and the Netherlands, moved more than 300 people into Pakistan while their visa paperwork is finalized, and moved 2,000 to safer locations within Afghanistan. In addition, they’ve provided aid in the form of food, medicine and access to telehealth appointments.
“What we are doing with these other vet groups is huge,” Lassally said. “The bottom line is we weren’t going to let anybody fall into the hands of the Taliban.”
This story by Tammie Moore of the Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs office was first published on May 19, 2022 by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. DIVIDS content is in the public domain.
Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Neef, assigned to U.S. Air Force 7th Reconnaissance Squadron, waves goodbye to evacuees from Afghanistan as they prepare to board a bus before departing Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, Sept. 4, 2021. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erika L. Kugler, 2021)