By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES
The family of an Iraqi interpreter killed in action while supporting U.S. Special Forces spent their first Christmas in America after arriving last week in Lincoln, Neb.
Barakat Ali Bashar â€” known as â€œAndyâ€ to troops â€” shielded then-Army Staff Sgt. Jay McBride when a suicide bomber detonated his vest during a vehicle search near the Syrian border in September 2007.
His last words to McBride were: â€œTake care of my son. Take care of my wife.â€
So, when Andyâ€™s family of ethnic Yazidis was forced to flee their home near Mount Sinjar in 2014 to escape the Islamic State and ended up in a camp for displaced people in northern Iraq, his old Special Forces comrades joined an effort to bring them to the United States.
The troops wrote letters supporting the familyâ€™s application for immigration visas that spoke of the debt they owed Andy and his bravery in combat.
This month the soldiersâ€™ pleas were answered, and the family was granted immigrant visas under a program for relatives of linguists who have worked with U.S. forces.
Andyâ€™s brother, Aziz, spoke in a telephone interview Friday about the familyâ€™s happiness upon arriving in America.
Aziz, 31, arrived in Lincoln Dec. 19 with Andyâ€™s widow, Laila, 31, son, Kinan, 11, and mother, Tekoz, 62. He also brought his own wife, Aliefa, 27; daughter, Karen, 5 months; and 4-year-old son, who is also named Andy.
Aziz had some warm words for Andyâ€™s battle buddies who supported the family.
â€œThey did a lot for us and everything they did in their efforts is appreciated and we will never forget how they helped us,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s a safe life in America. We are happy we got out. Now we want our kids to have a good education and for us to find work,â€ he said.
The family members havenâ€™t met the troops who helped them, but they hope to get together soon.
â€œRight before we left Iraq, I spoke to some of them. Some are very excited and want to visit us,â€ Aziz said.
A soldier who wrote in support of the familyâ€™s visa applications, Army Master Sgt. Todd West, said the news that Andyâ€™s extended family is in America was â€œlike Christmas [came] early this year.â€