In the dark of night, Said Noor’s family members left their homes in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Friday, headed for a gas station where they would be picked up and brought to Hamid Karzai International Airport.
They met with a Marine and other families who were escaping and gave him the predetermined code words: “Tom Brady.”
It was a moment of relief for Noor, an Afghan interpreter for American troops who enlisted in the US Army and now lives in Houston.
For three years, Noor has asked the US government to help relocate his family out of Afghanistan. He knew his work with US troops would make his parents and eight siblings targets of the Taliban, and watched in fear as Taliban fighters took over more of the country as American troops withdrew. Finally, the news came: If they could get to that gas station, they could join him in Houston.
“They did not bring anything. The only thing they had was the clothes on their back, and their paperwork. But they had to leave everything else behind,” Noor said.
Noor’s mother and siblings are now on a military base in Spain, Noor said. He has been able to speak with them and said he anticipates being reunited with them in Houston in the coming days.
“They’re going to work, they’re going to go to work and they’re going to educate themselves,” he said. “They’re looking for a bright future, and they’re going to get that.”
The resettlement of his family is part of a huge effort by the United States to assist Afghans who helped American troops over the course of a 20-year-long occupation of the country. Noor’s family members were among about 114,000 people evacuated from the country in the last two weeks of August, according to the White House.
Noor’s case came to the office of Representative Seth Moulton when a Boston Globe reporter asked if they had heard about him. Noor had worked with Justin Pothier, a member of the Massachusetts National Guard and the son of a Globe editor.
“His was one of the first families we took from outside the district,” said Neesha Suarez, director of constituent services for Moulton’s office.
The family initially got a State Department airport access pass, a generic piece of documentation with no identifiers on it that those in charge quickly phased out, Suarez said. It would have been dangerous for them to keep going back to the airport, past Taliban checkpoints, she said. She and Moulton would stay up at night, contacting people on the ground in Afghanistan and trying to see who they could secure passage for.
“This process was convoluted, to put it lightly,” Moulton said. “And our office received more cases than any other office I know of. We have about 3,000 cases that we are working. And of course some of them got out and some of them have not.”
For Noor’s family, the fateful connection out of their homeland came through a Marine Moulton met on his August trip to Afghanistan. He agreed to meet Noor’s family, and other families with special immigrant visas who had worked with US forces, at a gas station near the airport, Moulton said.
The code words, “Tom Brady,” were a nod to Moulton’s Massachusetts district, he said. That the actual Tom Brady had moved to Tampa Bay was irrelevant. Some of the Afghans thought it was the name of the Marine they were meeting.
“These are the people that we want here,” Suarez said. “Nobody’s a regular translator, these are people who are above and beyond. It’s going to be wonderful to have them in our district, in our state, and throughout the country.”
Still, concerns remain. There are people still in Afghanistan looking for safe passage out, though the last military plane has already departed. Moulton mentioned a refugee camp he visited in Qatar, where he said people did not have enough food and water.
“This is definitely one of my concerns, that we’ll turn our focus to other things and forget about all those folks still stuck in Qatar as we speak,” Moulton said. “The hardest ones are the ones that are still trying to get out. I told my wife that I would finally get some sleep once the last troops leave Kabul, but I was up all night again trying to get other folks out.”
Back in Houston, Noor has spent the last few days looking for a bigger place to live — his one bedroom apartment is not going to fit his whole family, he said. He has also been buying clothes for his parents and siblings, so they have something to wear when they get to Houston.
On Monday afternoon, for the first time in a while, he felt some relief.
Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-929-2043.