Father of local fallen soldier fights for Afghan interpreter who helped son

Father of local fallen soldier fights for Afghan interpreter who helped son

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - The family of a fallen soldier from Petersburg is now in the midst of another fight.  Staff Sergeant Jonathan Schmidt lost his life in Afghanistan three years ago.  Now his family wants to make sure Schmidt's Afghan interpreter doesn't suffer the same fate.

For years, Staff Sergeant Schmidt's Afghan interpreter has waited for the visa he was promised, In the mean time he's faced constant threats.  Just a few weeks ago, his brother was stabbed multiple times while helping this interpreter, called "AK," escape his attacker.  

Staff Sergeant Schmidt, a Thomas Dale High School graduate, was gunned down in Afghanistan.  His father, Phil Schmidt, wears his son's memory on his sleeve--literally.  He has several tattoos depicting his son's service to the U.S.  The tattoos are dedicated to his son, who died while trying to save fellow soldiers.

Now Phil faces another fight, helping the Afghan interpreter who was by his son's side throughout his tour and in his final moments.  We called him "AK" because his identity needs to be concealed.  "He not only fought for Afghanistan, [but] he also fought with our soldiers who are trying to achieve the same thing," Phil says.

Their relationship grew over time.  "AK pretty much told me he (Staff Sgt. Schmidt) was brave and he loved him very much and he's going to miss him," Phil says. "He's in Heaven with his parents."

"AK" should have been given a visa because he worked for the U.S. government.  However, it's been years, and his request is still in the administration process.  It's a plight thousands of Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives working for the U.S. now face.

"I just don't think it's a priority," Mark Doss, who is an attorney working on AK's case through the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, says. "We want to ensure our own credibility in that region, and this is an easy and clear way to do that."

According to the State Department, more than 16,000 have worked for the United States in Iraq (and their family members) have benefited from the Special Immigr ant Visa program but acknowledge many more are waiting.  "An internal State Department review identified inefficiencies that were previously causing delays, and cut the average processing time for the majority of SIV applicants," an official with the State Department says.  "We made the system easier for Afghans to use, and we sent Embassy officers on outreach tours around the country to explain the procedures and process."

Phil says he calls "AK" his son, and now has new fears.  "I fear the same thing that AK fears," he says.  "That the Taliban are going to finally find him and kill him and then his VISA will be gr anted.  As good as this guy is for as many years as he's been doing it, the U.S. doesn't need to thumb their nose at him."

If you want to help, Phil says to write to your local state senator or representative about "AK"'s story and how he helped Staff Sgt. Schmidt.

The International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center has filed a lawsuit on behalf of "AK" and a dozen other Iraqis and Afghans who worked for the U.S. government.

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