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Afghan interpreter receives a hero’s welcome from North Carolina community

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A rural North Carolina community pulled out all the stops to embrace their newest residents this week – an Afghan interpreter who served for over six years with American infantry units including the 82nd Airborne, and his family.

Hundreds of community members lined the street to welcome Zabiullah R. – or “Johnny” as he was dubbed by the troops – as they cheered, waved flags, and held signs of support for the family.

“We’ll do whatever we can do to welcome them here and make them comfortable and make them feel like they are at home now,” Tracy Byrd, a nearby resident who was part of the Waxhaw County welcome committee told Fox News.

Johnny’s rescue team included members of the 82nd Airborne, a U.S. Senator, and private veterans group.

When Johnny arrived, he was reunited with 82nd Airborne veteran Sgt. Mike Verardo after serving with him more than ten years ago in southern Afghanistan.


(Video Credit: Fox News)

“Mike and Johnny last saw each other in southern Afghanistan before Mike was put on a medical helicopter to evacuate because of his life-threatening injuries,” Mike’s wife, Sarah Verardo said.

An IED explosion in April 2010 cost Mike his left leg. Since then, he has undergone over 100 surgeries at Walter Reed, the army’s flagship hospital in Washington D.C.

“He lost his leg. I’m so sorry for him,” Johnny said, on his way to his new home in the Tar Heel State. “He did a great job for my country, for my people. Also for his country. He came to Afghanistan to try to help the Afghan people.”

Community member Danica Thomas’ husband was also a member of the 82nd Airborne and served with Johnny.

“I lost a lot of my husband in Afghanistan, and being able to have Johnny here with us is just incredible,” she said. “I am here to embrace him, support him, his family, and see a community do the same.”

A veteran and his wife lent Johnny their home after they acquired another place to live closer to the wife’s parents.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘You know, if we can do something, let’s do it,” Paul Cruz said. “These people, like Johnny have risked their lives with the American forces for many years. And we felt that we owed it to them to be able to at least help and get them off on the right foot as they make their way.”

Their generosity didn’t stop there, also providing Johnny a car to get around.

“Being a husband and a father knowing that if that were me, I would just fear for my life. I would hope that someone would be able to help,” said Cruz. “We just happened to be in a place and time where we were able to do that.”

Sarah Verardo, who is deeply involved in Afghan rescue missions through her work as the CEO of The Independence Fund and involvement in Save Our Allies that has rescued 12,500 Afghans, vowed to make Johnny and his family feel welcome.

“We are going to weave these combat interpreters right into the fabric of the veterans’ community,” Verardo said.

Sen. Thom Tillis worked tirelessly to bring Johnny to the farm in North Carolina where his three daughters will be neighbors with Verardo’s three daughters.

“It was late nights, two or three o’clock in the morning. We were uncertain if we were going to be successful and I told Mike I wouldn’t rest until I heard wheels up,” Tillis said with “God Bless America” audible in the background. “We took a lot of scissors to the red tape,” he said, referring to the difficulties faced during Afghanistan evacuation efforts that some have called “a massive f**k up.”

Ashley Hill

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