Now that the United States has completely withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan, many San Diegans with loved ones in the country are worried that they will be in danger.
"Lucky" Manan is an Afghan interpreter who came to the San Diego area in 2016 on a special immigrant visa after working with the United States military as an interpreter in Afghanistan for more than a decade. This year, Lucky returned to Afghanistan to care for his mother who was hospitalized.
In August, as the Taliban began to take control of more of the country, Lucky returned to his village to try to get his family members to safety. He feared that he wouldn't make it out of Afghanistan alive because the Taliban would recognize him as someone who had helped the United States.
Lucky called Shawn Vandiver, a Navy Veteran, in San Diego who he had become friends with during his time living in the area. Vandiver was able to help Lucky and his family navigate through the Kabul airport, keep their paperwork secure in an online portal should they have to destroy it for security reasons, and ultimately get Lucky back to El Cajon where he lives.
"Even though I got to Kabul, I was not believing it myself that I made it back," Lucky said.
Vandiver then set up an operations center in downtown San Diego and worked with approximately a dozen other active duty service members and veterans in the area who wanted to help other interpreters like Lucky who were stranded in Afghanistan. Vandiver says the connection between veterans and interpreters is a special one.
"These folks are like our brothers, our brothers and our sisters, they are family to us, they fought for us, we made them a promise and we owe it to American values...we have a big statue in New York that says: 'bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses'. We have an opportunity to do that," Vandiver said.
Lucky says he fears for other interpreters and their families who are still in Afghanistan, especially now that the United States military is gone.