Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a lot of Americans signed up to serve in the Afghan war. One of them was an Afghan immigrant in San Diego named Hamed Dost. But the time he spent serving his new country has become a heavy burden he carries to this day.
SAN DIEGO Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a lot of Americans signed up to serve in Afghanistan. One of them was an Afghan immigrant in San Diego named Hamed Dost. But the time he spent serving his new country has become a heavy burden he carries to this day.
"If it weren't for all the things that I saw, that I dream about every night, my life would have been much different," he said. "If I hadn't been the crazy guy who volunteered my services and my language support to go to Afghanistan, my life would have been ten times better right now."
Hamed is 40 years old. He was born into an educated middle-class family in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was nine-years old when the Russians invaded and subjugated the country. He remembers when Russian gunmen, called spotniks, would enforce curfews by shooting anyone on the streets, including children.
Eventually Hamed, his father and his older sister became involved with the resistance... the Mujahideen.
"I was involved with the freedom fighters. We were spreading night letters, or kites as they're called in nowadays, against the government," he said. "And one of my friends got caught. My life was in danger. I was going to go to prison."
Hamed's older sister did get sent to jail. When she was released, the family fled to Pakistan and eventually to San Diego. Hamed attended San Diego State Universisty and got a job with Caltrans as an engineering technician.
Then 9/11 happened. Hamed says he saw the terrorists, and their violence, as an insult to his Muslim faith.
"I don't consider them Muslims. I don't consider them being a part of my religion, because my religion is one of peace and forgiveness."
But the terrorist attack meant something else as well.
"That was a point for me to prove that I love this country, that I love my second country more than I love my first country," he said.
Hamed speaks both Pashto and Dari, languages native to Afghanistan. He got a job with a government contractor and was assigned to the 513th Military Intelligence Bridage as a translator. That's when his troubles began.
Hamed Dost can't point to one thing in Afghanistan that turned him into a sick and troubled man. He worked on interrogations, some of which caused men to be sent to Guantanamo Bay. He worked with a unit that identified and removed land mines and caches of weapons.
He recalls the death of a good friend and protector. A man named Rick.
"He was like an older brother to me. He told me, 'Where I'm walking, put your foot in my footstep. Make sure you don't hit the landmine so you don't die.' And he hit the landmine," said Hamed. "He hit the landmine about 50 meters away from me. Now there was nobody to put steps in front of me."
On one mission, Hamed and his unit were trapped by hostile fire in the mountains for 17 days. They ran out of water and food.
"I passed three kidney stones in the mountains. That was the most horrifying experience of my life," he said.
After he returned to San Diego, Hamed Dost became an alcoholic. He suffered post traumatic stress. He got married and had a son. But he lost his house and, in a fit of depression, threatened to kill his wife and himself. Domestic violence charges followed, as did some other run-ins with the police. Hamed was fired from his job at Caltrans.
Hamed Dost has some fond memories of his time in Afghanistan. He showed me photos from his time in the service. Some showed him with friends. One shows him in front of the Kandahar Airport.
Yet Hamed Dost says the life he's led since coming back has become"miserable." He sees his son infrequently. He says his troubles with the law have prevented him from getting any job. He clearly believes that going back to Afghanistan was his biggest mistake.
Now Dost says the U.S. should take his advice and leave the country. He says we should let Afghans find their own future, even if that future is the Taliban.