Afghan translator expresses gratitude for raising daughters’ first Thanksgiving in America

Three months ago, Zabiullah R., who served as a combat translator for the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan, had no idea what would happen to him and his family after the US military withdrawal.

Zabiullah, affectionately known to the troops as Johnny, was able to escape Kabul in August, with the help of a US senator, a private group of veterans and members of the 82nd Airborne. Johnny arrived with his family at his new North Carolina home in October.

Today, his young daughters are already receiving something they would never have had under the Taliban: an education.

Johnny and his family at Rea View Elementary School. (Courtesy of Sarah Verardo)


“They are happy and excited,” Johnny said. “Every morning… 6 am my two daughters, they wake up and get ready… come to my room and wake us up.” ”

Johnny says the girls even ask to go on the weekends.

“I tell them, like ‘two days off you have to stay home,'” Johnny said. “They keep asking, ‘We want to go to school, we love school. We have friends at school. We want to play with them. We want to meet them. ‘ ”

His daughters were welcomed into their new school in Weddington, North Carolina, and embraced by the community, where many of the soldiers Johnny once served now live.

Students and families at Rea View Elementary School eagerly awaited Johnny, his wife and three daughters with handmade signs and greetings written in Dari.

Classmates and local families greet the daughters of an Afghan interpreter. (Courtesy of Sarah Verardo)

“By the time they stopped it became so quiet you could hear a fly flying. And the girls got out of the car, and they came, and sure enough, they were smiling, beaming from ear to ear. Said Jennifer Parker, principal of Rea View Elementary School. “And my families and kids were just waving and saying hello in their mother tongue. ”

They play football on the same team as the daughters of Sgt. Mike Verardo and his wife Sarah.

Johnny holds the flag of the 508th Infantry Regiment with injured veteran Mike Verardo.

Johnny holds the flag of the 508th Infantry Regiment with injured veteran Mike Verardo. (Courtesy of Sarah Verardo)

Johnny served as a translator for Verardo, who lost his leg in Afghanistan’s Arghandab Valley in 2010 and suffered a head injury. Mike underwent more than 100 surgeries at Walter Reed after serving in the 508th Infantry Regiment, an airborne infantry regiment of the United States Army, first formed in October 1942 during World War II. Mike and Johnny each have three daughters.

Now they are neighbors and their daughters are best friends.

“Seeing our six daughters playing together, six little girls whose fathers served together, shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan, healed our hearts a little more every day,” said Sarah Verardo, Mike’s wife and CEO of The Independence. Fund. and co-founder of Save our Allies. “These children are an example to everyone of what it means to love everyone. ”

Their daughters went for a walk for the first time and now have after school play dates.

Muzhdah, Muzhgan and Asra are having fun with their new American friends.

Muzhdah, Muzhgan and Asra are having fun with their new American friends. (Courtesy of Sarah Verardo)

“It was actually the first Halloween in the United States. They were so excited, ”Johnny said. “They went to the Halloween party and house to house to meet other children and families. ”

Muzhdah, 7, and Muzhgan, 5, did not speak a word of English when they arrived at the school.

“Google Translate doesn’t have Dari on it, so it’s been an experiment with that. So, a lot of hand gestures, images. I feel like we play a game of charades on a daily basis. But these are small things to make them understand. And now they’ve started to understand, ”Parker said. “Last week, Muzhdah actually spoke a full sentence in English. ”

His first sentence?

“’I love pizza.]Yes, Muzhdah loves pizza,” Parker recalled.

Parker says Muzhdah and Muzhgan don’t take anything for granted.

Muzghan with his sisters at school.

Muzghan with his sisters at school.

“Sometimes kids are like, ‘Oh, I’m not feeling well, I don’t want to go to school.’ And for them, it is such a privilege. And so, coming to school every day and learning, especially as a girl, they’re so excited and they’re little sponges, ”Parker said. “We talk a lot about gratitude and especially at this time of year. It really illustrates how grateful this family is. ”

Johnny says his daughters are embracing their new freedoms.

“A hijab … [Muzhdah] said, I’m not going to do that. I want to be freer. I’m going to live in freedom, ”Johnny said.


This Afghan Thanksgiving family brought so much joy to this North Carolina community that opened their hearts and helped them start their new lives in America.

“I’m grateful to be safe here,” Johnny said. “I am thankful for this first Thanksgiving, I am here with my family. ”

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