Monday, July 6, 2015

Lost in Translation

by Eli Williamson, Director of the Veterans Program

As our nation honors our returning Veterans we must not forget those who served valiantly by their side. During my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan I had the honor of working with some of the bravest men and women I have ever known. While our interpreters did not wear our uniform they became an integral and indispensable part of our team.

Like many of my fellow Veterans, I cannot express the loss that I felt when two of my interpreters where killed in the line of duty. These translators worked alongside us in combat and saved our lives multiple times through their critical role in intelligence gathering, troop education, and cultural competence.

Today, branded as traitors by the Taliban and groups like ISIS, the lives of local translators and their families are at constant risk. To help these individuals, the U.S. government established a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). This program is designed to grant citizenship to Afghan or Iraqi translators, and their families, who worked with the U.S. military over the last decade. However, many of these individuals will never make it to the States. Obtaining these visas is long, exuberant, and ultimately ineffective process as the majority of these translators remain in refugee camps for years without visas.

Created by: VICE News

In June, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation hosted a program Lost in Translation: The War on Terror’s Forgotten Interpreters, to raise awareness about this important issue. Held in the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, the program included a lively panel discussion with topic experts on how not fulfilling our obligations will impact future American security and what can be done to bring these individuals home.

Panelists included: Becca Heller, Director and Co-founder of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, Erik Malmstrom, Former Infantry Officer of the United States Army and Business Development Manager for Cargill, Khalilullah Farshad Yewazi, a former interpreter of the United States Army, and Craig Bennett, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Recycled Energy Development, LLC.

Here's how you can help:
  • Contact your state legislators to let them know you support the 3,000 additional visas for Afghan interpreters currently included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act.
  • Visit the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project website and sign-up to get updates on legislative efforts.
  • Share this blog with friends and family.

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