Afghan man makes inspiring journey to Carson City
November 23, 2016
Thanksgiving will forever have a special place in Shafiullah Nasratzada's heart. As "Shafi" and his family celebrate their one-year anniversary of immigrating from Afghanistan to Carson City, they have many reasons to be thankful.
Shafi and his wife and two children left Afghanistan after Shafi served as an interpreter for U.S. Lt. Col. John Strahan for nine months. He assisted the U.S. Army commander in avoiding untrustworthy people and hostile environments during his unit's countless missions in Afghanistan.
In return, Strahan, now retired from the Army, helped Shafi and his family leave their country and relocate to their new life in Carson City.
Paramount in the family's assimilation to a new culture has been Shafi's introduction to Western Nevada College and its Applied Industrial Technology program.
To help Shafi start a new career, Strahan reached out to one of his friends, Mark Lobsinger, a CTE credit coordinator at WNC.
Lobsinger met with Shafi to assess his work history while also discussing his future goals. Shafi also talked with WNC Electronics and Industrial Technology Professor Emily Howarth to learn more about WNC's offerings.
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"After hearing his story, I knew he could be a good fit for our AIT program," Lobsinger said. "I showed him different opportunities to gain certifications, which then could lead to a better job, while still working toward the degree."
They toured the AIT labs and talked with current students in the program.
"Finally, we went over to financial aid and discussed different funding options. We got him enrolled in summer classes, and the rest is history," Lobsinger said.
The accelerated AIT training in WNC's Career and Technical Education department provides Shafi with the opportunity to become part of the manufacturing boom in Northern Nevada.
"I'm learning the skills to stand on my feet," he said.
What Strahan has done for Shafi's family has extended way beyond arranging U.S. Immigrant Visas for Shafi's family.
"He gave me all of America," Shafi said. "He got car seats for my kids. I didn't know where my house was going to be and he rented an apartment for us. Everything was there at the house that we needed. I really appreciated it."
Shafi and his family also spent Thanksgiving Day with Strahan's family, making them immediately feel at home in a strange country.
Strahan doesn't believe he did anything out of the ordinary, considering what Shafi did for him. But the Northern Nevada chapter of the American Red Cross thought otherwise, recently selecting Strahan for its Everyday Heroes Award.
"What I did for him was the right thing to do," Strahan said. "He meant the world to me for what he did for me and my team."
KRNV Channel 4 television of Reno sent a film crew to Western Nevada College to feature Strahan for receiving the American Red Cross Northern Nevada Chapter's Everyday Heroes Award. Reporter Madison Corney also interviewed Shafi for the story that was aired by News 4 on Veterans Day, Friday, Nov. 11, the one-year anniversary of Shafi's arrival in the U.S. (See the report at http://mynews4.com/news/local/everyday-hero-award-us-army-lt-col-brings-afghan-interpreter-to-america).
Shafi's and Strahan's blossoming friendship was captured through the lenses of the Reno TV news crew.
"He's the best guy and he deserves everything," Shafi said.
In the AIT classes he's taken so far, Shafi said he has received support from Howarth and lab instructor James Klipp.
"Emily has been very kind and is always helping me, and Jim has been very helpful in the lab," Shafi said. "I am learning a lot of new things in AIT 101 and AIT 155. I am looking to learn more about AC/DC and continue next semester."
While Shafi plans to continue his AIT education, and his wife is enrolled in the English Second Language program at WNC.
"Shafi is learning to assimilate in our life and culture here and he's doing a fantastic job," Strahan said. "They have a chance to be safe and enjoy things others in this culture enjoy."
Having spent nine months together in Afghanistan, Strahan also was able to help Shafi sharpen his English.
"Shafi already had a good handle on the English language," Strahan said. "I would only correct or assist him with things like dual-meaning words, sentence structure, singular and plural anomalies and some tense issues."
But most of all, Strahan has provided Shafi and his family with a close friend who they can trust and count on, just like Strahan experienced when Shafi was there for him in Afghanistan.
"John is a good friend," Shafi said. "I can always call him. He's a friend. 'I will teach you; I will show you,' he told me. Every two days he calls me, and he still calls me (to check on how we're doing)."
Strahan said Shafi served as his interpreter on 75 missions — shepherding him through some remote villages with unpredictable tendencies.
"Shafi was my eyes and ears on what was going on around me," Strahan said. "There were situations where he made all of the difference. Without his assistance, it would have been both difficult and unsafe to operate in Afghanistan. Having the ability to communicate with the Afghan people and understand the local population was a major factor leading to mission success."
In Carson City, Shafi has found many people he can trust, especially with his good friend, Strahan, showing him the way.
"This is a great example of how a small community can work together to lead people toward education, opportunity and success," Lobsinger said.