FORT BLISS – Plane after plane, every Afghan evacuee who gets off has a different story. One soldier who is able to hear those stories is Sgt. Simranjeet Lidder, a cavalry scout with the 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
Lidder explains their experiences include similarities from being in danger in Afghanistan and grabbing a limited amount of their belongings, to putting their faith in the United States to keep them safe.
“It is an honor being able to say that I’m one of those first people welcoming them into the United States and Fort Bliss, Texas while representing the Army as an immigrant myself,” said Lidder.
She recently had surgery which has her using a scooter to move around, but felt this mission was bigger than herself and feels honored in assisting with the integration process. She finds ways to use the time between translating and helping to entertain children as the families wait for transportation.
This is just one instance during the operation where Lidder was able to help incoming Afghan evacuees at Fort Bliss’ Arrival Departure Air Control Group. She welcomes Afghans, assists with processes and talks to families arriving during her shifts.
Lidder explains that helping the evacuees is more than just a job for her because she has been in their shoes before.
“My family and I came to the United States as refugees back in 2001 from Iran, basically a few months before 9/11 happened,” said Lidder. “I was 16 years old when I came, so I can understand the feelings of what some of these kids are going through.”
Lidder and her siblings didn’t know what was going on and didn’t speak the language when her parents brought her to the U.S. She is reminded of her childhood experience through the Afghan families as they arrive with limited belongings and a lot of questions.
“The children would circle me and they ask ‘How can we join the military?’ she said. “They ask ‘Are we allowed to?’ and ‘What is the process?’ Nearly every plane has about five people interested in joining the United States military.”
Originally, Lidder’s family didn’t want her to join the Army, so she became a nurse and worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Livermore, California. However, working around veterans and listening to their patriotism and desire to serve again caused her to reconsider.
“I ended up quitting my job after hearing veterans say that at any time we would go back to serve the United States of America,” she said. “I told myself that I still have that opportunity.”
Now she finds herself in a critical role in the installation’s efforts to support the mission to help integrate Afghan personnel into American life.
She guides the evacuees through processing for their stay at Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Complex in New Mexico. When she walks through the waiting area, families are always asking questions, but they are just as eager to share their stories with her.
“I met Sgt. Lidder on my first day working here at the ADACG,” said 1st Lt. Parashar Duggirala, an engineer with the 647th Regional Support Group of the Army Reserve. “She’s very enthusiastic and immediately identified things that we could improve. She made sure we were all up to speed on the customs and courtesies along with using the proper vocabulary.”
Lidder and Duggirala are part of a team of soldiers assigned to the task force at Fort Bliss with specific linguistic skills to help communicate with Afghan evacuees and translate their needs.
“She’s been absolutely essential in building relationships with the [Afghan evacuees],” said Duggirala. “She is the first person evacuees see, in uniform, that can speak their language in a native fashion, and, being a female as well, that gives them a lot of hope, you know, that this is a land of opportunity.”
“I tell them do not worry, Fort Bliss has organized translators for you at each location,” Lidder said. “Everything that you need, from taking care of your clothes, food, showers to paperwork to locate family that was left behind or lost.”
Lidder explains that what can’t be communicated through the smiles and waves to the soldiers at the ADACG, is the level of admiration the evacuees have for the soldiers.
“They will put their hands across their chest and bow down,” Lidder said. “They will tell me ‘Tell these people that we thank them and appreciate them for helping us and our families, for saving us.’”