-And I think you feel this with the young man who is dying.
-He doesn't deserve it, you know.
He doesn't deserve it.
At the age of 21 or 22, he doesn't deserve to die.
But he's dying.
And in the case of Vietnam, he did not even believe in the cause.
-Nothing about this setting is easy for all of us to agree and say, "Yes, I'm gonna sit here and share these experiences," but if it's someone else's survival guide, then it's -- it's worth being shared.
-We come back, you know, after witnessing these heavy traumas and you can't piece together.
That's very traumatic to see someone's life... We all die.
That's just a natural part of life, you know?
But to see life be snatched in such a violent way, whether it's someone you're -- you're trying to kill or someone that you love dearly.
♪♪ -For most Americans, like myself, citizenship is a right by birth.
For some, however, it's earned through military service.
I'm Stacy Pearsall, retired Air Force staff sergeant.
And today, I'm sitting down with Dr. Sam Babu and Mazin Mozan, two veterans who pledged their allegiance by serving the flag.
I'm also going to talk with Nick Paz, a veteran whose mission is to repatriate those who have been deported after action.
-♪ There will be light ♪ ♪ There is a road ♪ ♪ Marching on ♪ ♪ Coming home ♪ [ Rotors whirring ] ♪♪ [ Birds chirping ] ♪♪ -What I think is really, really interesting -- All of you are Army, so that unifies you.
And I'm the token Air Force in the room.
Let me start with Mazin.
Your path to the U.S. was different, but you still ended up in the Army, too.
And I want to hear your extraordinary story.
So if you could share with us where you're from and how you got here and... -I was born and raised in Iraq, finished my education there, went to veterinarian school.
So I graduated as a vet, doctor of veterinary medicine.
And once the war started in Iraq in 2003, I was still in college.
And toward the end of my college time, I started working for the U.S. Army as a linguist, local national linguist at the time.
And that was the beginning of my transition to move later to the United States.
-Husband and father of two Mazin Mozan was a recent veterinary medicine graduate when the war started in his country of birth -- Iraq.
However, he was forced to flee and seek asylum in the U.S. when threats to himself and his family became far too real.
Mazin decided to extend his service by enlisting in the Army and is now a commissioned officer in the Army Reserves.
There was a lot of things going on for you that really drove you to make some big decisions in your life.
You were -- You were supporting the Coalition by being a translator.
And that led to a lot of threats to both your life and your family's life.
And -- And we all know we want to protect our home and our family.
So do you mind sharing a little bit about what the circumstances were that -- that really opened your eyes to having to make these hard decisions?
I think it goes back to being a free mind and having the choice.
The good causes that we stand up for when we deploy and go -- go do the humane part of our mission.
All of those adds up, and it makes you an American and makes you choose this way of life.
-So starting off, I think it's a similar principle.
It doesn't matter what soil that we're born on.
It's the humane part of that mission, is what got me drawn into working with the Army, is watching the troops that traveled across the globe to come and liberate a country.
And I believed in that.
And I believe that those soldiers came there for a good cause.
And they were struggling with that portion of the language barrier and the cultural barrier with the Iraqis.
And from the other side, as well, from the Iraqis' perspective.
So I think it was a mix of a duty to both -- to those who came to help my own country and my own nation and to those who are trying to continue to receive that help, the Iraqis.
So I decided to volunteer, and many others.
I want to preface this by saying this.
You know, my story and my journey is not a special one.
Thousands of linguists, you know, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, and from Korea and every experience that we had as the U.S. military -- There are similar stories, and even better than mine.
-And it's one shot, one kill.
-So those people all stepped up and decided to help, and that's what I did.
-So you had taken some -- some R&R, and that was when things kind of went a little bit haywire for you, maybe ultimately might have been even more of a catalyst to protect your family.
Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
-As you continued working, you put a target on your head because there were, you know, evidently a lot of people that opposed what U.S. military and Coalition forces were doing in Iraq, and they were trying to, you know, put obstacles in our way.
And one of the things they were doing is targeting the linguists and the locals that helped the Coalition forces.
So a lot of us linguist were, you know, targeted.
Our families were targeted in many levels.
And I was fortunate to stay -- stay alive and leave the country ultimately.
But yeah, during that time, obviously it was the peak of the war.
Everyone was being targeted.
Any time, you know, we had to leave and go home for leave for several days, you were taking a tremendous amount of risk.
You didn't know whether you were coming back or not.
And the experience that I shared with you earlier was, probably my last time, I think, that I went home ever, I came very close to losing my life.
But what's unique about it is what I shared with you, is that the people that came to my mind that I called on during that time when I had no hope were my American friends.
And the person I called was home here on leave in Alabama.
And I called him, and I said, "This is what's going on."
-What was going on?
Can you give us your... Or -- If you feel comfortable sharing it.
-Uh, a little bit.
-But, uh, yeah, I mean, I was -- I was very close to being picked up and -- and possibly killed by those who opposed what I was doing in my own home.
But, again, I leaned on the people that I trusted, and -- and they came through.
But it has a lot to do with not just me.
It's not about you.
It's not about your individual safety.
It's you have your family there, as well.
And that's a big burden on your shoulder in all those decisions.
As an individual, if it impact you alone, it's different than if you take an action that impacts others, especially when it's your loved ones.
-The overall view of this is that it was high risk for us.
Like I shared with you, many decided to try and leave that path, hoping for safety, but unfortunately very few I know that were successful in doing that or stayed alive after.
-They were killed.
They were killed.
-So you turned to your -- your brothers from America, and you gave them a call.
Can you tell me a little bit about what that journey is, and how did you end up in the Army?
Let's talk about that.
-The immigration program is called the Special Immigrant Visa, which, most recently the U.S. activated it for the Afghans, partners that helped us during the war there.
And it was activated again by President Bush during that time.
And the MiTT team that I was working with, they approached me, and they said, "Look, this program is being activated again.
We think you should leave."
I have never had that thought on leaving my family or my country.
So -- But I had no choice, also.
So the only choice was to leave.
And they submitted the paperwork.
The process was, as you can imagine -- It was still under the pilot stage, so it was very selective.
They only wanted 50 out of the thousands of... -Just 50 people?
Out of the thousands of linguists that were working there.
And it wasn't just linguists -- It was everyone else that worked on base.
-And they were getting killed.
-It's either leave or die.
-And they're only taking 50.
-Only taking 50.
So it required, you know, certain letters of recommendations from specific ranks and, you know, chain of command.
And I had no idea whether this thing would go far or not.
And that was not -- When I left, that is not why I left.
I didn't leave waiting on the visa.
I left because I had nowhere to go and it was unbearable anymore mentally.
So I left, and a couple months later, I got the call from my friends again, and they said, "Hey, your visa's approved, and we want you to come to the States."
The first thought is that I didn't have money for the ticket.
That was my first thought.
I will never forget it.
And I didn't tell them that, but I think they sensed it.
The team put money together, and they said, "Don't worry about it.
You just come here first.
We want you out of there."
-How hard was it to be leaving your home, going to Egypt, a country you don't really know, you're all by yourself and no money, no -- There are so many unknowns.
What's that like?
-I think two things is what I will never forget about that experience, is that, one, that my mental state was -- was very bad.
It's a challenge, and it's not an easy experience.
You feel like you left your team or you left the mission.
Even if your team had gone and rotated back to the States, you just feel like you left the mission and you want to go back.
And a lot of veterans are still -- You know, as much as we are happy when we're leaving the combat zone, we still come back home, and we check on that combat zone and what's happening and what is that unit in that place is doing because we have those emotional ties.
And that was my struggle, is that I left as if I was the only linguist in Iraq and now I dropped the ball on the mission.
That was a struggle for me.
-Nick, I want to dig in a little bit about -- about your story -- where you're from, how you ended up in the service.
And tell me a little bit about your -- your journey through it.
-I am 33 years old.
I am from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
-Multiple combat deployments as an Army Scout Sniper took their toll on New Mexico native Nick Paz.
For years, he struggled to find his purpose and meaning until he found his calling helping deported veterans regain citizenship they'd earned through military service.
-I was in seventh grade when 9/11 happened.
I remember watching the Towers fall in the classroom, my teacher saying, "We're living through history."
That always is emblazed in my mind.
My father was counter-narcotics in the National Guard unit, so service was always a part of my family.
You know, before my senior year was up, I already decided that I wanted to -- to slang and bang, to be an infantryman.
Shortly after high school, 2007, I was already in basic on the Army birthday, June 14th.
Not that long after, I was in Iraq.
My unit already deployed.
I was with the 2nd-327th Infantry, the 1st Brigade Combat team, 101st Airborne.
They were in the Sunni Triangle, Samarra, during the surge.
So it was a 15-month deployment.
They were already one month in.
And I was the brand-new guy.
And they had me as a S.A.W.
And I was raised by wolves.
I was raised by great men.
House-to-house fighting, as you know and as you know.
Real and -- real, like skirmishes.
-Tell me about your -- your first experience clearing a house.
-[ Laughs ] -Tell me a little bit about what went through your mind.
-Um, I was nervous.
I remember talking to an N.C.O.
I forgot his name.
He told me, "You're the new guy.
You're gonna be the first one in the stack," implying, like, "Hey, man, just take the bullet for us."
But it's just, like, a joke between, you know, servicemen.
You have to have a dark sense of humor.
Just, you know, after the first couple, you know, it just becomes second nature.
Someone gets shot, you just step over the body, and you keep on pushing.
-What did you feel like the first time you took fire?
[ Breathes deeply ] Adrenaline.
I felt alive.
[ Chuckles ] It was...
I was in a truck.
I was on the gun.
And I just remember the Humvee rocking, and they told me, "Hey, dumb-ass, get down.
We're getting shot at."
[ Laughs ] -That's one way to say it.
[ Laughter ] -You know what I mean?
-I tell you.
-[ Sighs ] So you just, you know, return fire, you slang and bang and, you know.
-You made a lot of friends on that deployment or... -Brothers from this life through the next.
-It sounds like that's a pretty resounding theme for everybody, that you made really, really tight relationships.
-I don't think, uh...
I mean, I respect all walks of life, but I think the experience that you go through, and similar to his, like those, I don't think you can get it anywhere else.
And, uh, it's -- it's unique, it's different.
And, uh, the friends that we make in combat in those situations, uh, it doesn't really require you to be shot up to make that brotherhood.
Uh, in many cases, just by being that close for extended period of time under threat, uh, in a situation where you're vulnerable and you get comfortable being vulnerable around those people, uh, it brings you closer than ever, and you can never lose that brotherhood and that sense of connection.
You don't talk to each other -- each other for years, and then you see each other, and you haven't missed a beat.
-I think for me, as a combat photographer, I would go down into an AOR and be expected to make relationships with people really quickly.
You know, your unit was really tight because you spent every waking minute with each other.
Same with you and your guys, right?
And then there's me.
-[ Laughs ] -So I was -- I was Air Force with Army.
-And I was a woman amongst -- As you said, there aren't a lot of women out there.
In your time, there were hardly any.
-There were none.
-But we'll come to that.
Not in the field.
But for me, times had changed by the time I got around to documenting the war.
So, you know, people would see me come, and they'd be like, "Oh, crap.
That's a liability."
Air Force, female, and then I had a camera.
People didn't really welcome me at first, so, you know, I had to try really hard.
And you don't know me from Adam.
Am I gonna be a liability?
Certainly that's gonna be something.
You don't know how well I'm trained.
And most people call us the Chair Force, thinking we're lazy and sort of military-adjacent, not necessarily, like, the tip of the spear.
So I had to work that much harder to -- to gain a rapport.
And the one thing that I always -- I always tried not to do was to expect -- expect respect.
I think respect is earned.
And we talk about making those connections and that bond.
The bond that's born -- that is forged under fire is one that can't be unbroken.
And that's for a reason.
Because you've been through the thick of it together.
When I would go out with these units, the minute we'd come under fire and we'd get through it, and, hey, I'd actually have pictures of it because here's stupid me standing out in the middle of the firefight taking pictures.
Only a really, really -- somebody who's really, really -- Dare I say "balls of steel"?
I don't have any of those.
But that's what they would usually say.
Or really, really stupid.
Could be one of the two.
But ultimately, I think going through those experiences together, that tied me to so many wonderful people.
We're gonna switch gears a little bit, and I'm gonna put the spotlight on Sam.
What struck me so much about your story was your -- your path to -- to getting into the Army.
Do you mind sharing with all of us a little bit about what brought you to the -- to the U.S., and how did you end up in the Army?
-India is a poor country.
And education is all over, if you take India as a whole.
-After completing medical school as a radiologist in India, Dr. Sam Babu's desire to travel prompted him to take a residency in the U.S.
Upon arriving, Sam registered for Selective Service, as required by law for all green card holders, never expecting to be drafted and deployed into the Vietnam War.
Sam decided to stay in the Army, retiring after 25 distinguished years.
-I am from that part of India that is extremely well educated.
The problem is, they couldn't find jobs for educated people in that state, so they always travel.
The joke is that when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, there was a Milalai from Kerala State selling dosas.
-[ Laughs ] -He was so inclined to give it to Neil Armstrong.
In other words, we travel.
-I earned my medical degree in India.
As a doctor of medicine, I could have easily made a good living in India, but I wanted to travel.
So I came to the United States because it spoke English and I spoke English.
Our education in India was in English.
The medical schooling was in English.
So really the only difference was, the diseases that were common in India were not the same as it is here.
But basically the language of medicine is the same.
I wanted a more liberal way of life.
I wanted an open society.
And I had the gift of medicine in me.
I took a test in India which lasted a whole day, which basically tested my knowledge of medicine.
And if you took that and you passed, you could then apply for graduate training in America.
-So I was eligible to apply to any residency or internship in the United States.
I came to Cleveland, Ohio, of all places.
-That's quite a -- Wait.
We have to pause for a minute because that had to be quite a departure from India.
-Yes, it was.
-Had you seen snow prior?
I could talk about that.
Snow fell in the United States -- In Cleveland, Ohio -- I came in 1966.
Snow fell on the 3rd of November.
-I'll never forget that.
-That was 1966.
So a lot was going on with the U.S. at the time, especially when we're talking about Vietnam.
-And you told me something I had no idea, even somebody from a military service member point of view, was that you were required to register with Selective Service.
-Even as a green card holder?
So can you tell me a little bit about what that process was like?
-When I got an immigrant visa -- If I came on a nonimmigrant visa, I was exempt.
If you get an immigrant visa and come to the United States, if there's a draft, you're prone to be drafted.
So there were draft classifications that went from 1-A, which means you're immediately available to be drafted, to 4-A.
4-A means you're not eligible for draft at all.
So I was classified 4-A.
Congress, in its wisdom, great wisdom, went ahead and changed it for doctors.
They said doctors are eligible for draft up to age 35.
So all of a sudden, I was reclassified.
I went from 4-A to 1-A.
So you came thinking that you were going to continue your education, live the American dream, and you end up getting drafted.
-How long was it from the time that you got to Ohio to the time you were in Vietnam?
-2 1/2 years.
-2 1/2 years.
You know this.
In order to become a U.S. citizen, you need to be a green card holder for five years.
-Well, they eliminated that for people who are in the military.
So after 2 1/2 years, I was a citizen.
-Mazin, how did you say to yourself, "I think I want to enlist?"
After everything you'd already been through... -Yeah.
-...you voluntarily walked down to the recruiters' station and said, "I want to join."
-I don't think any of us is emotionally connected to the M.R.E.s or, you know, some of the things that we go through in the military.
But it's really the bigger mission, the brotherhood, the -- your commitment to what we're doing there.
You know, the people that we saved and helped and -- and gave them an option to live a better life -- That's what drew me back.
And I just couldn't -- I was a veterinarian, as I said.
And when I moved here, I obviously considered the option of going back to, you know, the field of being a veterinarian and, you know, pursuing that.
But I couldn't detach myself from that mission.
And knowing that some soldiers can benefit from my experience and cultural knowledge, I couldn't hold it back.
So I took a contract as a D.o.D.
contractor, went back as a linguist for one year.
-That was with the Marines?
-That was with the Marines.
Great experience... -With the Marines?
-With the Marines.
[ Laughs ] -Never.
-I loved my time with them.
I was always used to, you know, the Army.
But great experience with them.
I-I think that's -- that's when I really leveraged my role as what I have always envisioned myself -- as a cultural adviser, not just a linguist.
I think we can bring many people that can translate and, you know, take the words in Arabic and spit them out in English, and vice versa, but I think that reading between the lines and -- because we always say is the hearts and minds, and I think that's what that war is about.
That's what I -- I think I started doing it more during that year with the Marines when I went back.
And in many cases, we had another linguist there in my presence and I did not translate.
I just sat there and kind of -- whether it's, you know, reading the room, taking notes, or whatever, because I thought that was more helpful.
And then coming back from that, I was done.
I've done all of this.
I need to go into the service and join.
-Were you officially an American citizen at that point?
-No, I was still a green card holder.
-Still a green card holder.
-Like the doc said, the path, the expedited path to citizenship, it's usually the military.
Otherwise, you wait five years.
I think you mentioned it was, like, 3, 3 1/2 years.
-Once you were in the military, you could become a citizen sooner.
One of the pictures I shared that had my naturalization certificate, that picture was taken at basic training.
They pulled me off the range, and they said, "Hey, you've got to go take a picture.
And I'm all, like, dirty and sweaty.
And they took a picture of me, and I didn't know what it was, and it was for the naturalization certificate.
And when I went to AIT at Fort Hood, that's where my ceremony was.
And I was sworn in before I even finished AIT.
The way I see it is, citizenship, it's the way you carry yourself.
It's the way you act, it's the way your mind-set is, and your mentality.
It's... Just like we talk about, you know, the terrorist acts -- I always try to say, "They don't have citizens.
They could be anybody.
They could be from any soil.
It's the mind-set, what matters."
So I like to say I'm -- I'm an American by my free mind, by my acts, by my, you know, selfless service to others.
-By your choice.
By your choice.
So that's -- that's what I embrace about my citizenship.
Sam, you were in Vietnam.
Was it really jarring for you, or was it you were focused on being a medical doctor and just, you know?
Tell me a little bit about your experiences there.
-Well, when I went to Vietnam, when I was drafted and sent to Vietnam, there were 49 U.S. military hospitals in Vietnam.
And that may not be accurate.
That's what the Internet tells me.
They were all run by the U.S. Army.
I know the Air Force has a medical department, Navy has a medical department, but the Army was running all the medical hospitals in Vietnam.
There were three different types of hospitals in Vietnam.
There were the -- The lowest would be the M.A.S.H.
There weren't too many of those.
There were surgical hospitals which took care of small little things like broken bones, you know, that kind of thing.
Then there were evac hospitals, or evacuation hospitals, which took care of everything.
So there was triage done in the field mostly by medics.
And there were no women drafted during that time.
There were no women in combat.
So all of them were -- All the medics were men.
They would triage the patients, call the helicopters.
We called them Dust Off, because when they landed, dust was lifted up.
-And patients would be triaged and evacuated.
Sent to either a M.A.S.H.
unit or a surgical hospital or an evac hospital, depending on the severeness of the injury.
And if the -- if the soldier was so badly hurt that he was gonna die, he was off.
He was not going to be evacuated.
So depending on the nature of the injury, the medic would decide after triage where these patients would go.
-So what was your specialty, though, Doc?
-I was a radiologist.
What was the common thing that you saw mostly, like, when you were there?
-Like, what -- what was -- What was the cause of these fractures?
-There's a war going on.
-And blast injuries.
-I'm gonna lean on you guys a little bit.
Feel free to chime in if you guys have questions for the doc.
-From the moment you got to United States to when you were drafted, soon on after, I know it probably wasn't an immediate feeling that you felt like you were an American, or was it?
And if so, like, what made you feel American?
And that goes to you, too, brother, later on.
-I mean, I think this story is probably common to all immigrants.
It depends on what age you are that you came to the U.S.
If you're a very old person, you probably didn't want to have anything to do with -- You know, you're stuck in your past.
I mean, I ate meat before I came, but I didn't eat beef.
I-I still remember my first hamburger, you know?
And the first steak that I ate.
The taste for food changed.
-Now I love steak.
So it just goes to show you the various things in this country that -- that happen.
You know, it was very rare for somebody to own a car and drive at the time when I came from India.
I bought a Mustang here, and I drove it.
I loved it.
So that's part of being here in America.
A love for automobiles, a love for driving.
-Your time in the service during Vietnam, your -- your bonds that you made with your brothers, your sisters, did that help change your perspective?
Yes, it did.
-Do you still have strong ties to them?
I'm sure you do.
There were -- You know, that's a very good point you raise.
That we were forced to live in a confined environment.
We were in a "prison," if you will, if you want to call it that.
But it was a happy prison in the sense that there were no restrictions on us.
We were in a confined area.
And we couldn't go outside.
You know, we were confined in that area.
So we picked up friendships with other people very easily because we saw them every day.
-You all went through this unique experience together, and you said you were in such close proximity.
Do you feel that accelerated and deepened your relationships with -- with your colleagues that much more?
-There's no doubt about that.
-I mean, two people that I really felt very close to have passed away.
I'm sorry about that.
[ Crying ] Thank you.
Terence Sullivan was an obstetrician from Chicago.
-Now, you might say, "Well, how many soldiers gave birth?"
But he was there because we took care of Vietnamese women.
We had a whole ward full of Vietnamese patients.
And there were women who gave birth, and Terry was busy.
We had a pediatrician.
Now, how many active-duty draftees are children?
But there were Vietnamese children we took care of.
So we had a pediatrician.
And Mel Spicer was an internist who was a close friend of mine.
And he had finished his residency in internal medicine, and he came to Vietnam.
And he went back and became a cardiologist.
And he then did nuclear cardiology.
So he went on and on.
And he served 20-plus years and then retired.
He had major degenerative neurological problems, nerve-related problems, difficulty walking, and so on.
They thought that this was related to Agent Orange.
You can never prove this, but that's what it was believed to be.
-So much happens in the years afterwards.
So, you know, your Agent Orange is our burn pits.
And, you know, it was the Vietnam generation that really brought mental health and ment-- you know, the idea of post-traumatic stress and developing, you know, post-trauma care for not only your physical well-being, but your -- your mental health well-being, and... it -- It's not always the wounds that we see that cut the deepest.
It's those that kill us slowly.
-Well, many of the Vietnam veterans are still suffering because they were... organically wounded... or, you know, legs lost or whatever.
-And so many -- And 50,000-plus died there.
-We carry the burdens with us no matter how long, and it still touches us emotionally.
I remember somebody said to me, "Just give it more time, and it'll get easier."
I don't know if I buy that.
-From my experience, I think I tried different ways.
The only comforting thing that I've found so far is talking to my tribe.
Uh, you know, it doesn't matter, you know, who else that you talk to.
Uh, when I talk to people that can relate, and they lived that experience, that's the comforting thing.
That's what unites us, I think, as veterans.
And not to say that those who are not are not helpful, but it's just -- It's beyond our control, I think, in my opinion.
It's not something I can control and just open up and tell you about what I've just gone through.
Um, I don't know.
It's -- It's different when I talk to, you know, the veterans who have gone through that experience.
-That's interesting you say that, because I would agree.
Can you remember the first person you lost on your teams?
-I do, yeah.
You don't forget those.
You don't -- You... Yeah.
-And they talked about getting shot at.
We never got shot at.
-But you were also seeing on the day to day -- You were also seeing trauma that was, you know, directly related.
-Plenty of it.
I mean, I don't want to get into that because it's emotionally devastating.
We saw people dying.
You know, young people in their 20s dying.
That's hard to take.
-And I think what a lot of people don't know about the medical personnel in the service is that, yes, you may not go outside the wire and do those missions that we talked about, but what you see on your tables, it's equally traumatizing.
-And even on the civilian side, you know -- and the medical personnel can relate to this -- you know, I don't want to say it's the guilt, but you always have that feeling of, "Okay, did I do my best?
Why did this outcome happen?"
And it's even more when it's your brother or sister on the table.
You know, with the whole -- I was deployed recently during that whole event that happened in Afghanistan.
And there was a big role for the surgical teams there.
And, you know, those outcomes that as we reviewed them at the end, and we did plenty of discussions, and, you know, those medical personnel have to live with those decisions that they made for the rest of their lives.
-I always find it hard to -- to try and articulate what that grief feels like, because if you -- If you lose a family member, that hurts, right?
-But why does it -- why does it feel like it hurts deeper and more -- I guess, more deeply when you lose a brother and a sister?
Why does that feel that way?
-I think it's more of, "Why them, not me?
Why am I still breathing?"
It's at least one of the feelings that I've had.
-It's -- [ Clears throat ] Excuse me.
To go from the sounds of cannons to the screams of silence would break the strongest of souls.
We come back, you know, after witnessing these heavy traumas, and you can't piece together.
That's very traumatic to see someone's life -- We all die.
That's just a natural part of life, you know?
But to see a life be snatched in such a violent way, whether it's someone you're trying to kill or someone that you love dearly, I mean, that -- phew -- that sticks with you.
There's no way around it.
Or just finding dead bodies in mass graves -- that...sticks with you.
You know what I mean?
-It's a spiritual connection that you don't need to, you know -- You don't need to analyze that any more than that.
-And I think you feel this with -- with the young man who is dying.
-He doesn't deserve it.
He doesn't deserve it.
At the age of 21 or 22, he doesn't deserve to die.
But he's dying!
And in the case of Vietnam, he did not even believe in the cause.
He was drafted and he was in to Vietnam.
And he was tortured and he died.
-I mean, okay.
Even the Second World War, Civil War, whatever.
Maybe you believed in the cause.
Maybe you showed up when you enlisted.
These were draftees.
I mean, it takes you from his spirit to my spirit, the one who is dying to mine.
And that is indescribable.
It is -- It is -- It is very, very strong.
-You know, for our loved ones and our friends who don't get to be in the inner sanctum, so to speak, what do you think would be important for them to know?
-Uh, directed towards our family, right?
Um, I just -- I mean, I know it's not easy to understand, but thank you for your patience, you know?
Uh, it -- I don't -- I don't want them to -- I don't want them to ever understand, um, because that means that they're gonna be going through the trauma we went through.
And I'm just grateful that they -- they're very patient and trying to be understanding.
-I mean, the support that we get from our families and friends, it's -- it's amazing.
And I think it's what's keeping us, many of us, alive.
Um, but, you know, those experiences to be shared, it's not easy.
And nothing about this setting is easy for all of us to agree and say, "Yes, I'm gonna sit here and share these experiences."
But if it's someone else's survival guide, then it's -- it's worth being shared.
Uh, so, you know, to our loved ones -- I think one of the things that I always think about is exactly what Nick said, is that you don't want to put them that same trauma, not that you're keeping it private, not that you're thinking that they're not worth knowing what you've gone through.
But it's to avoid even for us to relive it again or share with Nick... to go through some of my photos to try to send it to your team prior to this meeting.
It took me three weeks.
Every time I tried to open those folders, I closed them and I can't open them.
And eventually I got in and I made it very quick and I picked a few and I sent them and I got out.
It's a -- It's not something you want to go back to, and you don't want to put your family through that, as well.
They've gone through enough while you were gone.
They go through enough while you're here, as well.
So, again, it's focusing on what we have and... -What if they want to know more?
What if they're dying to know more?
Would you be willing to share?
I talked about, you know, being vulnerable.
I think it's different.
It's hard to reach, and it doesn't go off of how many years of friendship or marriage or neighbor friendship.
It's a different level of vulnerability, that you have to be very comfortable to share some, you know, if not all.
-Yeah, it's not gonna happen overnight.
This is a lifetime journey.
So hopefully they have enough patience to stick with us, you know?
But to unload all that on just, you know, over, like, a couple of conversations, it's a lot to put on somebody.
-I was just yesterday talking to someone who was very curious and interested in knowing about my experience in combat zone, but he was very hesitant to ask.
And he said, "I don't want to offend you.
I don't want to trigger something or any..." Which -- Understandable.
He never served, so he was very timid to ask me.
But I think what I shared with him was eye-opening, and it was all positive experiences.
You know, the good of what we do, the impact of, you know, what we have done throughout the years, you know, in every war, whether it was Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's always good of what we've done.
-Though I think that's what most people are curious about, it seems like.
-But you talk about doing good things, and I want to talk about Nick really quick because one thing that's so incredibly special about you, Nick, is... -Aw, come on.
You're gonna totally downplay this.
I mean, the veteran community is some of the most humble people.
But I really want to touch on -- I told you that I'm constantly on the move.
I have a hard time sitting still, and I call it kind of "running from the crazy," 'cause if I sit quiet too long, then thoughts tend to go in the wrong direction.
And I think, like, for me, it's talking to veterans and hearing their stories and taking pictures.
Those are the things that keep me happy.
Playing with my horses.
Now, when you got out of the Army, Nick, you struggled a little bit in trying to find your new task, your new purpose, and it led to helping some really unique individuals.
I'm gonna let you tell your own story.
-So, I've been with a nonprofit that focuses on veterans that have served this country -- some of them saw combat -- that have been deported.
And they're deported all over the world.
Not only -- Most of them are in Tijuana, in Ciudad Juárez, but they're all over -- El Salvador, East Africa, India.
If you want to think about who they are and how they came to this point, all you have to do is just hold up a mirror.
They're a reflection of us.
Some of them took a very similar route to try and attain their citizenship, but because of complications when they got out of the service and changes in the law in the mid-'90s, they were subsequently deported for infractions against the law that were considered an aggravated felony.
So these men and women that are deported do not have access to the VA healthcare system.
You have to think about your generation, Agent Orange, my generation, the burn pits.
There have been men that have died because of lack of access to the healthcare system.
And they're dying.
If they didn't have their benefits, they're dying in austerity alone.
And that troubles me because I know -- We were talking about our combat experiences earlier.
To go from the sounds to cannons to the screams of silence would break the strongest of souls.
To come -- Most of these men and women came at a young age.
They are the original DACA.
They went to their elementary school, middle school, high school in America.
Some of them were drafted in Vietnam, like yourself, sir.
Some of them joined, like our generation.
To go see what we saw and then come back, we all have trouble.
-You're still going through it.
And I wish you peace on your journey, brother.
-And then to fall short.
No one here in this space is free a spot or wrinkle.
We're all gonna fall short.
To go through the traumas of being incarcerated and then to be picked up by ICE and then thrown away like government scraps and then to be into a society... [ Clears throat ] Excuse me.
...that you haven't been in since, more than likely, your childhood.
Some of them don't even know the language.
And then to die because of complications of your service, knowing that right over the border, the way the bird flies, it's only like less than 10 miles away, you know?
-Nick, can you tell me, like, what is happening to people who are serving that fall through the cracks?
Why aren't they getting their citizenship while they're in service?
What's happening there?
-Each story's individual, right?
-But for the most part, they were promised citizenship when -- through the recruiter.
And, you know, when you're a young 18-year-old, 20-year-old, everything the recruiter says, you're gonna take it as gold, right?
Some of the -- I believe it's USCIS offices were closed overseas.
So that created inaccessibility.
And then some of them -- I've seen receipts where they went to I.N.S., and they put their packet in, but it was, like, the mid-'90s, so they PCS'd stations.
It means changing your station.
And their mail was just never sent to them or their leadership never submitted their packet.
And they're thinking, you know, "None of this immigration stuff is being brought up.
You know, I should be good to go."
They get out of service, and they -- You know, we all fall short.
Some of them are for nonviolent drug offenses.
-We sometimes self-medicate.
And ultimately some of these veterans who have been to war who are struggling turn to these activities, end up in the legal system and then ended up deported.
-I don't know if time permits you to go into the story of Diane Lindsay.
This relates to this.
-Diane Lindsay is a nurse and one of 20-plus nurses.
One of these soldiers was out in the field, and he got high on marijuana and he had a grenade.
So he comes to the environment in which the hospital was located, and he's wandering around ready to throw this.
At the hospital.
So what are we gonna do?
Diane Lindsay forced him to go into a room in which they were talking.
And after a while, Diane comes out with the grenade in her hand.
And they defused it or -- Nothing happened.
Basically, she averted the possibility of this soldier throwing a grenade at the hospital.
-All of us carry our burdens, and all of us handle those burdens differently.
We do have to acknowledge that that is a sad part of our veteran community, that, you know, some of them fall through the cracks and don't get the help they need or don't seek the help they need and end up, you know, turning to self-medication that leads to illicit activities.
-There's a female veteran.
Her name is Laura Meza.
She was in the medical field, dental.
She was born in Costa Rica, but she grew up in the DMV Area.
She deployed as a dental assistant.
Right before her deployment, the same thing that got Vanessa Guillen killed, you know, the one that was raped in Fort Hood?
There was a reason why she kept quiet about her rape.
Laura, before she was deployed, she was raped by somebody in her unit.
She deployed to Iraq, witnessed a mass casualty.
Dealing within months of her deploying and dealing with that trauma, not only the rape by somebody in her unit -- and she kept quiet -- she had to witness a mass casualty.
She went back to D.C., Walter Reed, to decompress, right?
And they would later medically chapter her out.
While she was in the hospital, she grew a dependency on barbiturates, you know, which was, at the time, it was, you know -- You saw that all over.
While she was getting out, she grew a heroin dependency because she no longer had access to barbiturates.
In her altered state of mind, she was raped again.
-And then not only that, she was picked up for narcotics.
Possession of narcotics.
She was ripped away from her family.
She had a daughter at the time.
She was ripped away from her family.
Think about this.
She was ripped away from her family and deported to Costa Rica.
She didn't have any ties to Costa Rica.
And she -- and she still managed -- The thing -- The commonality that I see amongst these men and women that have been deported is their persistence to endure.
And they're the rose that grow through the concrete.
She still managed to get on her feet, not even having any connections, sometimes being homeless.
She got her master's degree in English, and she's fighting her way to get back.
God bless her.
She has a son now and a boyfriend right outside the capital of San José.
The Biden administration created Immigrant Veteran Initiative, which is a great step forward, but it's not a panacea.
It's only using existing laws that are in place to begin the process of identifying and returning these veterans -- veterans that have been in exile -- home.
-We're all Americans.
And you raise your right hand and you say the Oath of Enlistment.
That's more than a dedication to this country, because you're basically saying, "I'm gonna lay my life on the altar of freedom."
To me, that check's been cashed.
Naturalization should be an automatic thing.
It takes a nation to send our men and women to war.
It takes a nation to bring them home.
And so many people ask me how they can thank a veteran.
Well, we can thank them by bringing them home and caring for them.
-If they're not getting their compensation and pension benefits, they're living in austerity.
And these certain climates are rife with corruption, violence, whether it's by the state or by we'll call them transnational criminal organizations.
And, you know, for them to -- They're on the bottom of Maslow's pyramid.
They're worrying about survival, let alone, you know, trying to align themselves, right?
In my conversations, what I do specifically is I go, you know, one week to three months at a time in a given location, whether it's Ciudad Juárez or Michoacán or Guanajuato or, just recently, I've only been back maybe less than a week and a half from El Salvador.
You know, I bear witness to their suffering.
And in my conversations -- and every single one of them I've been to -- these men have welcomed me into their house, and I'm so grateful for it.
The conversation of suicide comes up, you know, because they are enduring these circumstances where they -- For instance, you know, around Christmastime I was in Michoacán.
This brother was talking to his wife, who's disabled.
They have three kids together.
She's in St. Louis.
And she's on, you know, public assistance or government assistance.
She's trying to figure out how to get -- you know, rent furniture, let alone Christmas presents.
And he's telling her, you know, "Alright, baby.
Everything's gonna be alright."
Even though he's trying to figure out if he's gonna get his compensation and pension and if he's gonna go work the strawberry fields and, you know, be extorted.
You know, so I'm seeing him trying to believe in what he's saying while he's talking to his wife on FaceTime.
And then, you know, the utility of a man -- he thinks -- he thinks less of himself because he's not able to provide, even though he has the capability of it.
The thing -- The commonality that I see amongst these men and women that have been deported is their persistence to endure.
-We really need to work together.
And I'm not just talking about the veteran community.
I'm talking about us as Americans and a community at large.
-We hang in there together, and we look for the positives of it.
We can't deny that there's a sad part about it and difficulties and remembering those.
But if we change one person's life there, I think it makes it worth it.
And to the veteran community, my brothers and sisters, what we do, it's worth it.
What we do goes a long way.
And that is what we stand for.
It is what America is about.
I think there are multiple ways other than just saying "thank you."
The thank-you goes a long ways, for sure, but there are multiple ways, many barriers that our community lives through every day -- servicemembers, whether it's, you know, active duty, reserve, retirees, veterans.
There are many obstacles that could be removed easily, from employment perspective as companies, as employers, as a government, as benefits, as many ways that you can help the veterans overcome those obstacles and not have to go down the rabbit hole of, you know, depression and drug addiction and other things.
Let's give our veterans hope.
Let's help them out.
Let's not single them out.
Let's not find reason to, you know, to treat them that way.
Let's find a reason to appreciate them.
And it takes a village.
In this case, I think it takes a nation to come together and help our veterans.
It can't just be us veterans trying to help each other.
It has to be the entire society to say "thank you" collectively.
Nick, do you have any final thoughts?
-One thing I would say is, you know, every Veterans Day and Memorial Day, our elected officials like to parade us around.
And, you know, when the day is over, they hang us up like Christmas decorations that were forgotten.
I want substance to be behind their celebratory remarks.
So, yeah, to hold our elected officials accountable from the public... and for our elected officials to start holding DHS accountable because, you know, this Immigrant Veteran Initiative is not gonna be judged by how many we can walk across the border, but how many die in the process.
And a veteran who's deported can come back to America if he's deported, right?
If they get his paperwork right, of course.
But if he has an honorable discharge, he's allowed to be buried in the National Cemetery.
So there have been brothers that have been deported that have crossed, but they had to die in the process.
And I think that's just a sick joke and it's disgusting.
-[ Gunshots ] -You know, when we -- You talk about Veterans Day.
And we celebrate Veterans Day, we put our flags out, and we thank veterans, and we make a big to-do about it.
But for us, every day is Veterans Day.
We don't wake up and the next day it's not Veterans Day.
So thank you for sharing that, Nick.
And I want to -- I want to take an opportunity to give each of you, you know, a few minutes if you want to add anything or if there's anything you'd like to say in addition to what we've already covered.
-I want to tell you the story of Sharon Lane.
-She graduated from Aultman Nursing School in Canton, Ohio, and was accepted in the Army Nurse Corps.
And she was deployed at the 312th Evac Hospital, which was in the northern part of South Vietnam.
Vietnam War was a guerilla war from the North Vietnamese point of view.
They shot at all kinds of things and occasionally at hospitals, too.
So, on the night of the -- night on the 8th of June, 1969, I was in bed, and the siren went off.
So I grabbed my stuff, and I ran into the bunker, and I sat in the bunker.
And suddenly there was this huge sound of an explosion.
And I could really feel the shaking of the ground.
And that actually was the grenade or bomb or whatever it was that fell on 312th.
The bomb fell on 312th Evac, and a nurse was killed.
That was her.
-There were eight nurses who died in Vietnam during -- the war was going on -- who were deported.
She was the only one who died of enemy fire.
-I just wanted to tell her story because... they're the angels of -- They are the angels, the nurses who served there.
Thanks for sharing that story.
She deserves the recognition.
-Man, I really appreciate all of you.
And you keep saying that your story is not extraordinary, Mazin, but it really blows my mind.
I'm so glad you're sitting here.
I'm glad you made it.
I'm humbled and honored.
-Thank you, everybody!
-♪ There will be light ♪ ♪ There is a road ♪ ♪ Marching on ♪ ♪ Coming home ♪ ♪♪ ♪♪