Centerville veteran recalls fighting to help Afghan interpreter escape to U.S.

Centerville resident Army Col. James Dapore with an Afghan interpreter "Sami" while they served in Afghanistan. Sami has been living in the United States for nearly a decade. Dapore's sister posted this photo on social media. Contributed.

Combined ShapeCaption
Centerville resident Army Col. James Dapore with an Afghan interpreter "Sami" while they served in Afghanistan. Sami has been living in the United States for nearly a decade. Dapore's sister posted this photo on social media. Contributed.

A retired Army colonel living in Centerville is watching the situation unfolding in Afghanistan with a blend of sadness and gratitude — sadness at the chaos and gratitude that he was able to secure a U.S. State Department visa for an Afghan interpreter with whom he once worked.

“It’s just a sad situation,” Col. James Dapore said in an interview. “That’s all I can say. It didn’t have to be this way. It absolutely didn’t have to be this way.”

Dapore is a Piqua High School graduate who received a bachelor’s degree from Miami University and a master’s degree from the United States War College. He served in the Ohio Army National Guard before transferring to active-duty service, including service in war-torn Afghanistan with an interpreter named “Sami.” (Dapore asked the Dayton Daily News not use the former interpreter’s full name and not to say precisely when Sami left Afghanistan for safety reasons. He declined to say whether he has family remaining in the country.)

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Darlene Bayman, a Piqua resident and Dapore’s sister, remembered when her brother told her that he had volunteered for active-duty service in the Middle East.

“I said, ‘Why?’” she recalled.

“‘It’s like being on a football team,’” she said he told her. “‘The coach calls your name, and you go.’”

Combined ShapeCaption
Centerville resident Army Col. James Dapore with an Afghan interpreter "Sami" while they served in Afghanistan. Sami has been living in the United States for nearly a decade. Dapore's sister posted this photo on social media. Contributed.

Centerville resident Army Col. James Dapore with an Afghan interpreter "Sami" while they served in Afghanistan. Sami has been living in the United States for nearly a decade. Dapore's sister posted this photo on social media. Contributed.

Combined ShapeCaption
Centerville resident Army Col. James Dapore with an Afghan interpreter "Sami" while they served in Afghanistan. Sami has been living in the United States for nearly a decade. Dapore's sister posted this photo on social media. Contributed.

Sami is safe and living in the United States today, Dapore said. He “loves” America, he said. “He misses his people, but this is the land of opportunity. It’s the greatest country in the world.”

But getting him to America was touch-and-go at first. Dapore was concerned that his service to United States forces would endanger him.

“Even when he was working with us, you had to be careful, because people watch,” Dapore said. “He couldn’t go back to his village when he was working with us.”

More than 80,000 Afghans who worked with U.S. troops have sought U.S. visas under the Special Immigrant Visa program, according to news reports.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told National Public Radio recently the United States is ready to receive “up to 22,000″ of Afghans with immigrant visas in Wisconsin, Texas and in Virginia. “We’re working hard on this ... to do whatever we can to make it easier for these people to relocate,” Kirby said.

Sami loved the United States, and he was a loyal, dedicated colleague, Dapore said.

“In Afghanistan, there’s a saying that means ... ‘Shoulder to shoulder,’” he said. “Which means, every step you took, they were there. And they were advising us. And that entails an obligation to ensure their freedom because if we weren’t there, then they would be in grave danger.”

“He was an excellent interpreter, very loyal,” he added. “You get very attached.”

Sami was an interpreter in “every meeting I would go to,” the retired colonel said. He would help Dapore read the room, determine whether there was danger to U.S. forces and if so, where that danger was coming from.

“He would know what was going on, and where not to go and where to go,” he said. “He had vast experience.”

It was information that helped keep Dapore and his fellow soldiers alive.

“James apparently had to go through a lot of hoops and it took over a year,” Bayman said of the struggle to get Sami out of Afghanistan. “At least my brother was thinking ahead and got him out of there.”

The process to obtain a visa and the necessary documentation was laborious. Endorsements, background checks and other information had to be procured.

“Back then, it was not easy to get all that information together,” Dapore said, adding that in frustration, he turned to Sen. Rob Portman’s office for assistance.

Said Dapore, “Once I had the packet, it was just stuck in this process. It wasn’t moving.”

The senator’s office was able to get the case “unstuck,” intervening and cutting through red tape.

“This red tape is just endless, providing all this documentation,” Dapore said. That was difficult. But the hard part was tracking it, getting it through the system. They were very instrumental.”

Staff for Portman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Asked if they were fielding requests for help to flee Afghanistan, Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office released a statement saying: “Sen. Brown’s office takes all constituent casework very seriously and does its best to serve all Ohioans who contact us. Sen. Brown’s office has been in contact with the appropriate administration offices and because of the sensitivity of this matter, our office is unable to comment on any specific actions they may or may not be taking in regards to individual case concerns.”

Dapore retired from the Army in 2012.

“I’m devastated,” he said when asked for his reaction to how the United States has withdrawn from Afghanistan. “I can’t believe the process we’re using to leave. The poor planning is devastating.”

At the moment, Dapore said he has no contact with any other former Afghan colleagues. “I do know others that got out, went to different countries.”

He sometimes communicates with Sami electronically. He said the Afghan people can be passionate, but he declined to say what Sami has told him in recent days.

“We’re in a no-win situation,” he added. “We can’t go in and get everybody out. Just reengaging, it’s almost a hopeless situation. Hopefully, people can leave the country.”

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