BASEHOR, Kan. — A Basehor, Kansas, man is waiting for the arrival of Said Hassani, his longtime friend from his deployment in Afghanistan. Joseph Lendo helped Hassani, his wife and four kids safely escape from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The family is waiting at an army base in Virginia to fly to Kansas City.
Lendo was deployed to Afghanistan as a civil affairs operator in 2006. Hassani was one of the interpreters working for the U.S. Army. In a land far from home, Hassani became Lendo’s lifeline.
“I have no doubt in my mind that he saved my life numerous times - in times that I didn't even know it,” Lendo said. “So I really felt indebted to him.”
Hassani had recently married when they met, and he told Lendo that he wanted to provide a better life for his family.
Lendo helped him start the process of attaining a Special Immigrant Visa, which was later stopped due to “cultural miscommunication.”
When Lendo went back to Afghanistan in 2014, Hassani had gotten his Masters in business administration from India.
“So he was really trying to better himself, but the U.S. government wasn’t helping him," Lendo said. "It really made me feel like I needed to step in and try to help him more so than what I had been."
Lendo remembers the day Afghanistan fell under Taliban control this summer. He said there was a sense of unspoken loss among the soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.
“A sense of failure, a sense of disappointment," Lendo said. "We feel that we went over there, we shed blood and tears, friends died, a lot of damage was done to us, not only physically but also mentally, and we feel that the way that it ended was incorrect."
Lendo only hoped that he could get Hassani and his family out safely.
“The U.S. government decided that anyone who had been a US interpreter would now be of higher priority,” Lendo said.
A group of ex-military volunteers through Quiet Professionals helped the rescue mission from Kabul airport. They communicated through encrypted messages because the Taliban had already seized the cellphone towers.
“It was life or death just getting to the airport itself,” Lendo said. “Even though he had started the SIV process, even though he had tons of paperwork, the paperwork that he had before he went to the airport, he had burned it all. If in fact the Taliban came to his home, they couldn’t find any documentation.”
The process of getting Hassani and his family out of the country took five days. They were flown from Kabul to Qatar where they spent ten days, then to Washington D.C. and then to Fort Pickett in Virginia. They are currently at the army base undergoing security checks and preparing for their new life in the states.
“At one point he got a warning shot, shot at his feet,” Lendo said. “He had to climb through a ditch holding his 3-year-old son.”
Lendo believes the family is going through the process of getting work permits to qualify for green cards.
The Red Cross is planning to fly them out from Virginia to Kansas City, where Catholic Charities will help them with the resettlement process.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for the family.