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Jeffrey Buchalter, an Army veteran and law enforcement instructor at the Department of Homeland Security, credits the Iraqi interpreters who worked alongside his unit with helping him get home alive. That’s why Buchalter, who was injured in Iraq and spent nearly three years recuperating at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was moved to drive two hours to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., to protest President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Buchalter brought with him his Purple Heart, and gave it to a family of Iraqi refugees who spent hours detained at the airport. “Knowing their culture and how they view America, for me, it was a way to send a message to them: What they believe America was, it is,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s the greatest place in the world.” He wasn’t the only veteran upset by the blanket ban — Brandon Friedman, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, told the Times many members of his unit are outraged that Hameed Khalid Darweesh, their Iraqi interpreter, was caught up in the order. Darweesh, 53, was an interpreter, engineer, and contractor from 2003 to 2013, and had to go through interviews and security screenings for two years in order to get a special immigrant visa granted to American military translators. He was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Saturday, and freed after a federal judge temporarily barred U.S. officials from deporting travelers carrying travel documents that were issued before the ban.
Friedman said Darweesh helped the soldiers navigate neighborhoods, and was injured during a car bomb attack. “He was just such an integral part of the unit,” Friedman said, adding that not welcoming interpreters who risked their lives to help the United States won’t do anything to entice Iraqis to assist in the future. Read more about veterans standing up for interpreters — as well as the story of an Iraqi translator targeted by Islamic State militants who is now stuck in Turkey — at the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia