Across America, a war is going on, fought almost exclusively on the phone.
Former and retired military members are taking it on themselves to try and help Afghan interpreters get to the safety of another country. For years, these interpreters worked against the Taliban with foreign militaries and now fear retaliation.
President Joe Biden has said the United States will continue to work to get people out. But it is not that easy. Although many have gotten out, there are still hundreds remaining. Some groups have gotten out since U.S. forces withdrew, but for those working from far away to try to bring people to the States, it is not good enough. They have taken it on themselves to try and get people out faster.
Mexia residents David and Holly Maples, both former military members, have spent hours and hours on the phone trying to help former interpreters get to the States.
David Maples, 40, a former military cop, served in the U.S. Army from August 2000 to April 2012. In 2008, he was deployed to Iraq for the first of several trips there. He went to inactive reserve status in Afghanistan in 2011, remaining in-country when he got out of the military in 2012. Following that, he went to work for a private company as a contractor in Afghanistan, meeting his own personal interpreter who worked with him while he was there. He spent his time training Afghan forces with the company.
For the past 10 years, Maples has kept in touch with his former interpreter. Over the decade, they remained friends. Two years ago, Jafari, as he is known, reached out to David Maples for help in filling out a visa application. That started the ball rolling.
Then, last month, “all hell broke loose,” Holly Maples said. There were frantic calls from Jafari, who was stuck in Kabul where he lived with his wife, Zahra, as the Taliban took over the city.
David Maples started planning and meeting with other contacts he had from the military and his private contracting days. There were at least five other people involved, who met on the phone to try and help Jafari and two other couples get to the United States. Calls were made all hours of the day and night in the living room, office, bedroom, car and even once at an auction.
“For the most part of August, my living room felt more like a TOC (Tactical Operations Center),” said Holly Maples, a police officer with the Air Force from 1999 to 2005. “I saw the stress, worry, and then relief on my husband’s face so many times. I saw, and heard, firsthand of the despair and worries of the incoming refugees. I heard the midnight phone calls between my husband and his contacts in Afghanistan.”
Holly Maples came up with the idea they would take in Jafari and Zahra themselves. Another family the Maples helped with will stay with a retired lieutenant in Tennessee who was involved in the process. The third family they helped will see a mother and child reunited with her husband in California.
Once the process started, it was rough going. Even with proper paperwork, making it through Taliban and American checkpoints and onto a flight out of the airport in Kabul was a messy process.
Through many phone calls, David Maples finally helped Jafari and Zahra past the Taliban and onto airport grounds. Shortly thereafter came another frantic call. For reasons unknown, Jafari was being escorted off the grounds of the airport.
“The worst part is they wouldn’t let him get his wife,” Holly Maples said.
Then the calls came from Zahra, who feared the Taliban had killed her husband. She was frantic, and David Maples was able to find someone to stay with her at the Airport. No one knew where Jafari was for hours.
Then Zahra was escorted off airport grounds before she and her husband were reunited after about five hours apart.
David Maples told them to stay at the gate while he and a former colonel worked to find someone else to help the couple.
Another frantic call: Zahra had passed out from heat exhaustion and dehydration. David Maples told Jafari to take her to the hospital. When Zahra recovered, they went back to the airport gate, with hundreds of others trying to get out.
Finally, a Marine recognized Zahra from the day before when she was helping him interpret at the gate. David Maples got on the phone with him and explained the situation. That Marine stayed with the couple the entire time until they were on a bus headed for the terminal.
Now, all three families this small grouped helped are relocated to military bases in the United States for processing. Today, they are going through their final processing at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey before they get to Mexia.
In about two to four weeks, they will move in a modest three-bedroom house with the Maples and their three children and four dogs. Shortly thereafter, they plan to move to a bigger house in Teague.
“Things are starting to slowly get back to normal,” said David Maples, who continues his work to try and bring others to the freedom of the United States.
He said Jafari took great risks to work with him in Afghanistan. At just 18 years of age, Jafari spent countless hours with Maples, even once sitting down with the Taliban to interpret during a meeting, something that could really come back to haunt him.
David and Holly Maples are glad to be helping the couple and others find their way out of the war-torn country. They plan to continue the work as long as it takes.
“I keep saying that our time in the service may be up, but our oath is never over,” Holly Maples said.
Mary Drennon is a freelance writer based in Waco. She writes the weekly Veterans’ Voices series for the Tribune-Herald.