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Local Man Regrets Decision To Become Military Contractor After 9/11

Audio

Aired 11/10/10

Hamed Dost is a local Afghan immigrant who was inspired to join the war against terrorism after 9/11. He became a government contractor who served as a translator for the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade in Afghanistan. Dost now regrets his decision to join the fight against terrorism. He has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and became an alcoholic after returning to San Diego. KPBS Reporter Tom Fudge talks about what Dost has learned from his experience, and how his story might influence others who might want to follow his path.

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

Hamed Dost is a local Afghan immigrant who was inspired to join the war against terrorism after 9/11. He became a government contractor who served as a translator for the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade in Afghanistan. Dost now regrets his decision to join the fight against terrorism. He has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and became an alcoholic after returning to San Diego. KPBS Reporter Tom Fudge talks about what Dost has learned from his experience, and how his story might influence others who might want to follow his path.

Guest

Tom Fudge, KPBS News Reporter, and author of the "On-Ramp" blog on KPBS.org.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, You're listening to These Days on KPBS. In the weeks and months after the 911 attacks, many Americans felt the best thing they could do for their country was to sign up for military service. Some of these patriotic Americans were sent over seas to Afghanistan and Iraq. No matter how much these men and women were committed to the U.S. commission, combat leaves scars, the political uncertainty surrounding these wars and the way they were conducted also left some disillusion said. In a recent report and blog post, Tom Fudge, author of the KPBS blog on-ramp, introduced us to an Afghanistan war vet ran living here in San Diego, who has a unique personal story. But he also talks about postwar trauma shared by many veterans of I'd like to introduce Tom Fudge, good morning, Tom.

TOM FUDGE: Good morning Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'd also like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Can you share I story about how you or a loved one moved to join the military after 911? Could you think it was a good idea? Our number here is 1-888-895-5727. Tom, tell us about the man that you feature in your report, Hamed Dost. What is his background.

TOM FUDGE: Hamed Dost is -- was born in Afghanistan. He was born into an educated, middle class family in what he describes as suburban Kabul, Afghanistan. And he's 40 years old now, living in a small condo with his mother and sister in Linda Vista here in San Diego. But when he was growing up, he saw a lot of the turmoil that would come to define the country of Afghanistan when he was nine years old. That was when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and he says he remembers the 24-hour curfews the Soviets would enforce. And they would use gunners they called spotniks to enforce them, and apparently if anyone was out on the streets, they would be shot and killed. As a result of that, he and two other members of his family became a part of the resistance, called the Mujahideen, at one point, Hamed says a friend of his was arrested and put in prison, he thought he was in danger because of that, he saw his sister put in jail because of her work with the resistance. As a result of that, they found a way to flee to Pakistan, and eventually come to the United States, and eventually come to San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He and other members of his family eventually settled in San Diego and became San Diegans, went to school here.

TOM FUDGE: That's right, he went to San Diego state here. Never finished his degree here, but he did well enough to get a job with cal trans. I'm gonna get this a little bit wrong, but he was a civil or technical engineer with Caltrans. So he was an immigrant from Afghanistan, speaks very good English, and he was kind of living the American dream until 911 occurred.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us, how did the attacks of 911 affect the man you profiled, Hamed Dost?

TOM FUDGE: They affected him in a number of ways and we'll hear from Hamed so he can speak for himself. But he was a person who had become an American, had come to see himself as an American, but he was also a Muslim, and here's what he said, he starts out by saying that he felt that the terrorist attacks of 911 were an insulate to his religious faith.

NEW SPEAKER: I don't consider them Muslims. I don't consider them being a part of my religion because my religion is a religion of peace and forgiveness. That for me was a point for me to prove that I love this country. I love this country more than I love my first country.

TOM FUDGE: And there he was obviously talking about the United States as his second country, and that he loved it more than his first county, but he felt strongly enough about 911 to return to his first country to serve in the war effort there.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And as you say, he served in the war effort, but he didn't join a branch of the U.S. military.

TOM FUDGE: He wasn't a member of the military, but he had a friend who was a contractor which at the time was called BTG, which became part of titan corporation. Which he was based in San Diego, then it was bought by somebody else. But I digress. So he became a contractor, he did get some mill fare training before he went to Afghanistan. He went to fort Benning and got some weapons training and that kind of thing. But he was a contractor who ended up serving with the 513th military intelligence brigade in Afghanistan. And he was involved -- he was a translator. Hamed Dost was a person who spoke fluent Pashto, fluent Dari, the two languages used in Afghanistan, and he was a translator for American troops. And he was involved in some interrogations, interrogations that ended up sending some people to Guantanamo Bay. But he says that he did not witness any torture, which we've talked about a little bit. Also he was involved with finding caches of weapons, booby traps, so he had a variety of duties while he was over there.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So he worked very, very closely with the US military. He was indeed one of their translators?

TOM FUDGE: He was one of their translators but he was in the middle of the fight. He saw what was going on. And it affected him as it did many other people.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, the reason you feature Hamed Dost in your report and your blog post is because he's had a terrible life since he served in Afghanistan. Can he point to any particular traumatic event from that time.

TOM FUDGE: No, he can't, he sort of says all of it had some sort of effect. We can talk about a couple of things. Let's hear from Hamed Dost again, where he recalls, as I said, one of the things he would do would be to look for land mines, look for caches of weapons, and he was involved with looking for land mines when he saw the death of a man who was a friend of his, a protector of his, a man named Rick.

NEW SPEAKER: He was like an older brother to me who was always telling me, wherever I am walking, make sure you put your foot in my foot step, make sure you don't hit the land mine so you don't die. And he hit the land mine about 50 meters away from me. Now there was nobody to put steps in front of me and I could walk.

TOM FUDGE: And once again, that's Hamed Dost talking about the time that he spent in Afghanistan in 2002, and he was there for six months, but it was a period of six months that had a tremendous effect upon him. Another incident that Hamed describes is being trapped in the mountains of he was with his military unit, and they were trapped by enemy fire in the mountains for 17 days. They were supposed to only go up there for about one day, they ran out of food and water, and he said there was no medical attention. And he ended up passing through kidney stones in the mountains. He says when he finally returned to San Diego, he weighed -- Hamed Dost is not a big man, but when he finally got back to San Diego, he weighed about a hundred pounds.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are talking about a man who has a personal story, a unique personal story in Afghanistan, a war vet ran who lives here in San Diego, profiled by Tom Fudge, author of the KPBS blog on-ramp, and we are also asking if you would like to share your story about how you or a loved one joined the military after 911, and whether or not you think that was a good idea. Hamed Dost came back a troubled man, but many people feel very differently about thirds requirement service. Our number is 1-888-895-5727 and Michael is on the line from Oceanside. Good morning Michael, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for having me, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.

NEW SPEAKER: I would like to say that, I'm a United States marine. I joined the marine corps in 2004. I volunteered to go. It's the best decision I ever made. I did serve for -- from 2004 to 2008, I was in Iraq from November of '06 to March of '07 during the bush -- I too have seen combat. But it is the best decision, like I say, I have ever made. And I think our service members should be able to serve openly, but even if we can't, I still think we should serve.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, thank you for the call, Michael. Thank you very much for calling in.

TOM FUDGE: And Maureen, I think Michael's story shows that people do have different experiences in combat. I'm jumping ahead a little bit because I know we're gonna talk about PTSD, extensively a little bit later in this half-hour. But of the veterans who get treatment at San Diego's VA medical center, approximately 30 percent of them suffer PTSD, which is a disturbingly high number. But we have to remember that means that 70 percent of them do not suffer PTSD, and our caller was obviously one of these people who was not affect indeed that way.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, very good for you to point out. I was gonna ask you, Tom, getting back to Hamed Dost and his story, he came back after suffering these health problems because of his war experiences, what else started to happen in his life.

TOM FUDGE: He became an alcoholic, which he says was not a problem prior to going over there, he got PTSD, and the trouble just started with that. He got married and he had a son, which of course is a happy story, but he was having some financial problems, he tells me that he host a house, and the one point, he got into an argument with his wife, and he threatened to kill her, threatened to kill her and kill himself, as a result of that, domestic violence charges were filed against him, and that was one of a number of run- ins that he had with police. Eventually he lost his job, he was fired from his job at Caltrans. He says that he was unjustly fired, I called Caltrans, they wouldn't comment on it. So he became a man without a home, without a job, without income, and he had a son who he finds very difficult to visit because apparently he needs to have supervised visitation with his son, which is very expensive. And he can't afford that. So he's in a very tough situation right now. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, I know that you asked him a very telling question in the report that I heard on morning edition earlier this week, and that is, does he attribute this -- all of these things that have happened to him in recent years that have led his life into a downward spiral, to his brief time servings in Afghanistan.

TOM FUDGE: Six months in Afghanistan. Yes, the PTSD, the alcoholism, the problems with his family life, the problems with his job, the problems with the law. I asked him that very question, and here's what he said:

NEW SPEAKER: If it wasn't for all the things that I see and I saw, that I dream about every night, my life would have been much different. Filled have not been the crazy guy who would volunteer my services and my language support to go to Afghanistan, my life would have been ten times better right now.

TOM FUDGE: So here's a guy who clearly wanted to do the right thing, wanted to serve his new country, and wanted the defend the honor of his religion, Islam, and today he is sorry he did.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. If you have had similar problems after returning from your service in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or if you have a very, very different take on your service in the military, give us a call, share your sister. 1-888-895-5727. Tom, I wondered after hearing this report, how did you find this man?

TOM FUDGE: That's a very interesting question and one that I've gotten from quite a few people. He approached us, and when I say, he approached us, I mean he approached KPBS. The story that I heard from one of my colleagues here is this man Hamed Dost who apparently is a listener to KPBS, showed up at our front desk one day, and he said I've got this story to tell. And I gave him a call it sounded legitimate, and it sounded like a story that we should hear. And I know that we've a lot of stories of people coming back from Iraq, people coming back from Afghanistan who have had troubles, who have suffered from PTSD, but here is a man who had a very unique story where he was Afghan himself, he saw the political troubles in Afghanistan that brought him to the United States, and then he went back. He made the decision to go back to his old country to try to make a difference, and this is the result of it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that you followed up Hamed's story with a post about posttraumatic stress disorder. Why did you go that next step?

TOM FUDGE: Because PTSD, as we commonly call it, is something which has become very, very common among combat veterans, especially combat veterans coming back from Vietnam, coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, I think I just told you that 30 percent of the veterans that seek treatment at the VA hospital in San Diego suffer from PTSD. And it's an interesting thick because we never really talked about it 30, 40 years ago. As a matter of fact, PTSD did not make it into the diagnostic manual of mental disorders until 1980. So there was no PTSD until 1980. And I had a chat with a woman who is a psychiatrist at the veterans' administration medical center. Her name is Sonia Norman. And I said, well, did men who served in World War II not get PTSD, and she said, well, of course they did, we just didn't call it that. There are lots of different --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Battle fatigue. Right.

TOM FUDGE: Battle fatigue was common during World War II. We've all heard once or twice is the expression shell shock.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.

TOM FUDGE: So there were people, clearly, people who came back from World War II, Korea who had difficult, we just didn't call it PTSD.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Pablo is on the line from imperial valley. And good morning, Pablo, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, well, I'm just calling, you know, just to let you know and hopefully let everybody know that there's people that serve, and some people feel that they made a mistake and some don't. I'm one of those that feel that -- I'm very proud of what I did, I'm very proud of serving my country. Not only my country, but the country of Iraq. We went over there, we did our job, and we made a big change.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Pablo, did you have any problems coming back?

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I did. I did -- I was in the military, in the army, and we went over there for 12 months of so when you're in that mode, that alert mode for so many hours for days, for one year, you know, it takes you a lot for you to go back on your life as a civilian. It's not easy for some to go into the military and then go back as a civilian without being in combat. Now, being in combat is a lot more difficult. It's just -- I don't know, I can't explain it.

TOM FUDGE: And Maureen, well, thanks very much for calling in, and Maureen, let me follow up on this, because some of what Pablo says leads very well into some of the things that I heard from Sonia Norman about the nature and the treatment of PTSD. She -- the way she describes it is for all of us we have this what you might call a light switch inside of us, and when we feel danger, the switch is on, but then when we feel safe again, the switch goes off. And the problem with a lot of people with PTSD, is they don't have that light switch anymore. The feeling of danger has been switched on, and they can't switch it off. The other thing I wanted to follow up based on what we heard from Pablo was the fact that he was very proud of what he did and he felt very -- it sounds like he really believed that what he was doing was the right thing. And that apparently is important. At least in the opinion of Sonia Norman, that people who come back who are not quite sure why they went there, who didn't really feel that it appealed to their moral compass are more likely to come down with PTSD. I had a telephone confusion requester had. Let's hear a little bit of what she says about that.

NEW SPEAKER: People who feel like they really made a difference and had some positive impact, and what they did, there was a believe in the cause and believe that it had good outcome are less likely to suffer than the people who went through the trauma and saw this part of human nature and saw this part of themselves, and then kind of can't make sense of it and don't know why it happened are more likely to be angry and the new term for it is moral injury.

TOM FUDGE: So you suffer a moral injury as a result of going to a place where you're fighting but you don't really believe in what you're fighting. And there's no research to back this up, but this is from anecdote will evidence that this psychiatrist has. And you can imagine people who fought in Vietnam coming back and not being greeted and not being greeted warmly, and having a lot of people in the country believe that what they did was wrong. Based on what she says, you can imagine why a lot of these guys came down with PTSD, if that does contribute to it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have time for one brief phone call. John is calling us from San Diego.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much for taking my call. I appreciate it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're welcome.

NEW SPEAKER: I just want to say this a lot of us come back, and we don't see why the civilian world doesn't see what we did. It's very difficult for us to understand how they can just forget. We carry all of the weight that happened over seas. In my personal experience, I spent 17 months over there, watching a to know of my guys in the end get invited to the White House, president Obama gave my squad leader who was killed a meddle of honor, he did a lot of great things. And the Afghan people did a lot of great things to help us too. One of the very hardest things is for us to leave there and leave all those great people behind, there's tons of great people, tons of warriors out there who we still want to help, even from San Diego, even from the United States. Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: John, thank you so much for sharing your story. And there it is, life in combat, life over seas, serving in the military is really, really really different from civilian life. And it takes a transition.

TOM FUDGE: It is. And you heard Sonia Norman saying you need to deal with being able to see things that you just wouldn't see over there, and seeing a part of yourself that is never expressed in this country, and it can be very difficult to shift back from that to civilian life.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get in one final twist to the Hamed Dost story, and that is the fact that even though he seems to be suffering from posttraumatic stress syndrome, he is not eligible for veterans' benefits.

TOM FUDGE: That is correct. Because he is a contractor. And Sonia Norman who I talked to said there are treatments for PTSD, a couple of psychotherapeutic ways of dealing with long exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy is the jargon they use to describe these things. So he says there's treatment and it works but Hamed Dost can't afford that treatment because he went over to Afghanistan not as a member of the regular army but as a contractor. Therefore he is not entitled to VA benefits, as I think I explained, he lost his job, so he doesn't have health benefits from his job. And it's just one more thing that has made his life very difficult.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As to his personal, but let's not forget, there were a lot of contractors over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

TOM FUDGE: That's true. And there are and I was really rather shocked to look at a New York Times article from about a year ago, which said that at that time, and I imagine it's still the case, I'm guessing it's still the case, that American forces in Afghanistan were made up more of contractors, there were more contractors in the American forces in Afghanistan than regular army. And in fact, if you put Iraq and Afghanistan together, there are a few more regular army marines, etc. In those American forces, but it's -- it still is pretty much half and half. And so there are a tremendous amount of contractors who are going over there, are in danger, getting PTSD, and who knows if they get treatment once they get back?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you, Tom, for bringing this story to our attention. Of thanks so much. If you want to see the story of Hamed Dost and the follow-up, please go on-line to Tom's blog, it's the KPBS.org and the blog's name is on-ramp. Thanks Tom.

TOM FUDGE: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You've been listening to These Days on KPBS. Stay with us for hour two, coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS FM.

Comments

Avatar for user 'russhavens'

russhavens | November 10, 2010 at 10:39 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

There is an organization here by the name of ReBoot, run by a friend of mine, Maurice Wilson and retired Navy Rear Adm. Ronne Froman. Maurice is a 20 year Navy veteran (master chief petty officer) and worked with the Urban League of San Diego County for years. Now he and Froman launched this very applicable non-profit: National Veterans Transition Services Inc.

http://www.nvtsi.org/

One story from the San Diego media...

http://www.sdbj.com/news/2010/jul/26/reboot/

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 10, 2010 at 12:17 p.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

Sad, sad. This is a part of the war which one does not often hear. I wonder what motivated him in the first place--or to be more precise how he felt that this war was the right course to take.

( | suggest removal )