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Afghan Translator Regrets Going Back To His Home Country

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Aired 11/9/10

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.

— 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.

Hamed Dost (left) in Afghanistan in 2002.
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Above: Hamed Dost (left) in Afghanistan in 2002.

"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.

Hamed Dost in San Diego in 2010.
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Above: Hamed Dost in San Diego in 2010.

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.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Saint_Diego'

Saint_Diego | November 10, 2010 at 6:55 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Hamed Dose that I knew was not an alcoholic. Nevertheless, years before he got fired, he had done literally nothing but problems at work – reprimanded many times for betting on football games to keeping adult photos in his workstation. In my opinion, Tom Fudge has been used for gaining back employment with the State. In contrary to his view on the 9/11 portrayed through the On-Ramp, once someone had to warn him that he could have been reported to the FBI for his extreme violent view toward the Bush Administration's policy. Hamed Dose that I knew was someone nothing more than confused and rickety.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | November 11, 2010 at 8:40 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

I don't know who wrote the comment above, which is unfortunate. Serious accusations like those should be made openly so we know who's making them. I will say some things in response. No journalist knows all about his subject, and I do not not claim to know everything about Hamed Dost. I do know that Hamed Dost is NOT nothing more than confused and rickety. I also know that I called CALTRANS to get their side of the story about Mr. Dost's firing but I was told the agency would not comment. In light of that, it would be unfortunate if someone at CALTRANS has preferred to comment anonymously by posting the comment above. I know that Mr. Dost has made some efforts to sue CALTRANS over his firing. Readers should also know that he made some comments to me about his employment at CALTRANS that I did not include in my story because I could not confirm them. There is no question in my mind that Hamed Dost is a sick and troubled man, and nothing in my story seeks to deny that. But as a man who volunteered to serve his country in the Afghan War he deserves our respect and sympathy. And he deserves psychological services for which he does not receive VA benefits... having worked for a contractor, rather than the regular army. I invite the person who commented to contact me if there is more he'd like to say... but the comments need to attributed, not veiled in an anonymous email.

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Avatar for user 'Stranger'

Stranger | January 3, 2011 at 8:52 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

I think after becoming an alchc not even that Mr. Dost has lost his house or whatever but he has also lost his m. If Mr Dost would have really loved his country why he did not go there when people had more challenges laid in front of them than now (like during the Taliban regime) So now why did he go to Afghanistan? Well the thing is as interpreter while having the United States citizenship you get paid anywhere from 150 000 to 210 000 $US annually you live in a fully facilitated camp or barrack and you get a vacation every three to six months. So him crapping about the rough life he's had in Afghanistan is just funny trust me.

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