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    Army commander and translator connect 10 years later

    Army commander and translator connect 10 years later

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Ryan Rayno | Lt. Col. Joseph Mickley, the commander of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Ryan Rayno 

    Operation Allies Welcome - Operation Allies Refuge   

    FORT McCOY, Wis. – After nearly 20 years since first working together, a U.S. Army commander and a former translator for coalition forces in Afghanistan were able to reconnect at here during Operation Allies Welcome.

    In 2011, Lt. Col. Joseph Mickley, then a captain and company commander for 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, met Nasir, a translator for the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan, resulting in a friendship that has spanned two decades of life events.

    “Our unit was one of the last units to assume a combat mission in Afghanistan because the Army was just starting to move to an advisory role, but one of my initial tasks was to go to Qalat to pick up all of our linguists for the operations we were going to be doing,” Mickley said. “I went down to the building where we were supposed to meet the interpreters and I opened the door, and it was just, boom, that’s where I met Nasir.”

    Initially, however, Mickley, now the commander of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), did not work directly with Nasir.

    “I remember when I first started working with his unit, there was another translator that worked with him named Mustafa, but then he had to leave,” Nasir said. “Mustafa asked me if I wanted to work with the captain and if so, he would introduce us. I said, ‘I can’t work with a captain because he has a big responsibility, he’s a commander for a company and he’s in charge of a big area, so I would just distract him.

    “Then after a few Shura meetings in the villages, Mustafa finally introduced me to the captain and after that I enjoyed talking with him and I knew that I was good to work with him. From there we started working together a lot and built a good relationship and then from there a friendship.”

    For Mickley, the working relationship couldn’t have gone better for him and his unit.

    “It came to a point where we were like one person, where he knew my intent and if I was going to talk about something, he could already express what I needed to tell whomever we were interacting with at that time,” he said.

    Nasir first became a translator after encouragement from his family to find a way to better his life.

    “They thought that I would be perfect for the job, so I enrolled into classes to study English at an institute for one year, and after that I became a teacher for six months at the same institute,” he said. “Once I finished that, I took a test to get a certificate and then got hired by an agency.”

    It turns out that Nasir’s family’s belief in him was in fact more than just familial encouragement.

    “I would say that we were very happy with Nasir from the beginning, because he could speak Dari and Pashtu, as well as read and write in both languages, and that’s a unique and rare find, particularly for a linguist at that time,” Mickley said. “So with Nasir from the area, he really knew the customs and intricacies of the different cultures, but the fact of the matter is that he was so educated and really had a unique skill that you couldn’t find in other linguists.”

    Throughout the months of Mickley’s deployment, the two would build a friendship that was forged through a steady string of patrols, convoys, Shuras with villagers, meetings with the Afghanistan National Army and everything in-between.

    “There were a lot of dangerous missions then,” Mickley said. “Just to describe the area, our area of responsibility was very spread out, so we would sometimes have 16 kilometer movements to different villages, or we would go out to re-supply Afghan forces that were basically alone in the middle of nowhere. The missions were often-times three days to get to each location, and everyone could see us, so the routes would just get clogged with IEDs.”

    With the deployment wrapping up, and the inevitable separation looming, the two began to think about whether they would see each other again.

    “It’s always a fear that you won’t see someone you’ve built such a tight-knit relationship with again,” Mickley said. “You have this really tight bond and close relationship, and it’s basically just like leaving family and wondering what’s going to happen to him, where is he going to go, things like that.

    “The interesting thing about us is that we were able to keep in-touch throughout the years because of messengers and things like that.”

    Nasir was quick to agree with Mickley.

    “I always thought about my time with the company once they left,” he said. “Even when I was working with other battalions, I would think about how awesome my time was with the captain, and how good he had done in building and fixing relationships with the ANA or the villages. I would always hope that I would get to meet him again.”

    Many years later, neither knew they would get that chance until just days before arriving to Fort McCoy.

    “I didn’t know he was coming back to America because we lost a little bit of touch the last few years, maybe a few hello texts here and there,” Mickley explained. “I had gotten notified to get ready to come up here and the night before I left, I was sitting on the couch with my wife and we were watching television when my messenger app dinged. I looked at it, and there was Nasir in a Wisconsin sweatshirt.

    “I asked him where he was and he said he was at the base in Wisconsin and that he had gotten there the day before. He didn’t know I was coming up there; he just wanted to tell me that he made it to America. So I probably didn’t go to sleep until maybe 2 a.m., because we were just talking all night, and I just got really excited because I knew that we would get to see each other again.”

    Once Mickley and his unit arrived at Fort McCoy, the two arranged to meet a few days later.

    “Once we got everything situated and the Soldiers got settled in, I sent him a text asking where he was and after work we met up,” Mickley said. “I got to meet his family, and it was just amazing because he didn’t have a family when I first met him.”

    For Nasir, it was equally amazing.

    “The first time we met here, he was confused,” he explained while laughing. “He said I looked so much older.”

    Listening to that, Mickley laughed as well.

    “When I first met him he was so young and didn’t have a family,” he said with a big smile. “We spent an hour or so catching up, drinking chai and all that. It was so good to see him again and meet his family in-person.”

    Much like Nasir’s family knew of Mickley, Mickley’s family knew of Nasir.

    “They all know about him,” Mickley said while chuckling.

    Throughout the 20 years, the two families became tightly intertwined.

    “When I showed my wife a picture of his wife,” Nasir explained, “I told her that this is your sister, and they became friends on Facebook. I have pictures of his kids, and when we first met they were young, but now they are in the Army.”

    With Nasir and his family, now in America and ready to start their new lives, Mickley is doing everything he can to get him a support system.

    “I think it would be awesome to get him and his family settled down at Fort Campbell, but we have to go through the process to make that happen,” he said. “It’s not an easy process, I can’t just say, ‘Hey I want to bring him and his family to settle with us and I know I can take care of them,’ because you have to work through the system.”

    Though both have spent time reflecting on the past 20 years, both are equally looking forward to the future.

    “I think it’s just natural, that when you spend a lot of time with someone like we did, conversation comes up about how life in America is, and I knew that someone like Nasir would have a happy life in America,” Mickley said. “Then naturally you start wanting to help them have that life in the future.”

    Nasir continued that sentiment.

    “To me, it’s not that he’s going to help me … I’m going to work with him, because I’m going to work to have a good future in America, and I know I’m going to,” Nasir said. “Right now I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have a problem in America because I have him.”




    Date Taken: 10.14.2021
    Date Posted: 10.18.2021 14:31
    Story ID: 407474
    Location: FORT MCCOY, WI, US 
    Hometown: GETTYSBURG, PA, US

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