Matt Zeller is ranked #2 of 69
I am an Afghan War Veteran who founded No One Left Behind - a nonprofit that resettles Iraqi and Afghans who served with the US at war.
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My political story
I never thought my Afghan translator would save my life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill me. Janis did just that. I'm here today because he had my back in a way I only thought an American soldier would. Coming into to consciousness I realized I would likely die on that desolate Afghan hillside -- the mortars were too close and accurate to miss me again. At that moment, I felt a body slam into the ditch next to me and simultaneously heard the unmistakable sound of an AK-47 firing next to my head. On April 28, 2008, I found myself in the worst ambush of my life -- surrounded by 45 Taliban fighters, out of grenades, and running low on bullets. We had been fighting nonstop for an hour. A mortar round landed within a few meters of my position and sent me flying into a ditch. I turned and saw my Afghan interpreter Janis Shenwary glaring down the barrel of his rifle at the bodies of the two Taliban fighters he had just killed. They had me dead to rights until Janis acted to save mine. On that April day he taught me the true price of loyalty and brotherhood forged through combat. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list. For the next five years, we tried to secure him and his family the U.S. visas he clearly had earned. After an extensive effort that involved a national media campaign and working with more than a dozen members of Congress, we eventually prevailed. On October 29, 2013, he and his family landed in Washington, DC, where I greeted him with several members of Congress and a CBS camera crew. As we walked out of the airport, I asked him where the rest of his luggage was. He pointed to the four suitcases that he and his wife had rolled off the plane and said, “brother this is it, we were only allowed to bring one suitcase per person and it had to be under 50 pounds.” Catholic Charities helped him find a modest apartment and the government provided him with eight months of food stamps and medical coverage – the entirety of assistance provided to help him and his family transition from lives in Afghanistan to 21st century America. I started a fundraising campaign and within days raised him $35,000. When I went to hand him the check, he thought about accepting the funds for half a heartbeat and said, “brother I cannot take this money…can we use it to help resettle others?” Through his generosity, we started No One Left Behind, an organization dedicated to ensuring we fulfill our nation's promise to bring these allies to America after their service and provide them with housing, furniture, and employment assistance. We consider keeping that promise a matter of national security -- nothing less than the credibility and honor of the United States is at stake. Thousands of Iraqis and Afghans volunteered to serve with the US military during the wars. Given their profound service to our nation's military while at war, these interpreters deserve better than years of waiting on seldom delivered visas and almost no support in resettling in America. Most arrive penniless, disconnected from family support networks, and unequipped to find jobs or build lives in their new home. In the last year, No One Left Behind and its allies have helped pass four pieces of legislation in Congress, resulting in over 5,000 new visas for Afghans and a complete extension of both the Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa programs for at least an additional two years - efforts will help save at least 25,000 lives. We have also raised over $150,000 and used it to resettle over 350 refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why I deserve a Netroots Nation Scholarship
No One Left Behind continues to be a labor of love -- everything we raise continues to go to our clients. As a result, we have very few resources to pay for things such as lodging for travel to promote our cause.
What first inspired me to get involved
I ran for Congress in NY's 29th district (now defunct) in 2010. Though I lost, I found blogging with my supporters and potential constituents to be extraordinarily healthy for the democratic process and for fostering ideas and debate.
The blog post I am most proud of
No One Left Behind - it has become a go to resource for Afghans and Iraqis seeking refuge in the United States.
More about my political involvement
I volunteer with Team Rubicon - veterans and civilians joining forces to provide relief following disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc). I also run my organization, No One Left Behind, full time without thus far getting paid. In that end, I oversee a national organization with chapters in five US cities, on both coasts, and with over 500 members.
How I've gotten others involved
No One Left Behind allows veterans and their former interpreters an online place to reconnect, organize, and share stories. Through our Operation Lost In Translation we've committed our organization to assist any veteran who would like to try and get their interpreter a life saving US visa.
I am a