Meanwhile, Woodruff had made an unbelievable recovery and was able to reunite with McFarlane and two officers from their team — Maj. Bill Taylor and Maj. Mike Jason. When the soldiers related the story of how Omar had saved his life, Woodruff was eager to get in touch with the translator, but the soldiers had lost touch with Omar. Jason then spent months tapping all of his remaining contacts in Iraq until one day he found a current e-mail address for Omar, and they were finally able to reach him.
Jason also got in touch with Evans and the Council on Foreign Relations, and things began to fall into place. Brian Lowe, an intern at the foreign relations group, spent the next few months filing the paperwork for Omar's application, and then worked with a contact in the Department of Homeland Security to fill in the missing pieces. The application was finally deemed complete and approved at the end of June.
Evans and Lowe then explained to the soldiers that they had gotten as far as possible with what they could do. McFarlane wrote to Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning for help with the next step, and his letter reached Bunning's director of constituent services, Pamela Dimmerman. She contacted the National Visa Center and kept in close communication with its staff over the next two months to ensure that they continued to move Omar's case forward.
As a result of the efforts from Bunning's office, Omar was scheduled for an immigration interview in late August, and after navigating a few additional snags with his paperwork, he was allowed to book a flight to the United States. When Omar landed in Louisville, Ky., Dimmerman was able to give him a hug. "I felt like my child came home," she said, teary-eyed.
Omar is well aware that other translators have not been so fortunate. "I think they forget us," said one Iraqi translator nicknamed "Opie," now in hiding in Jordan. Opie's arms and legs are disfigured by the scars of a chemical bomb attack, and he lives in fear of being assassinated because he is seen as a traitor.
Yet he has no contact with the soldiers he served with, and no one to help him steer his application through the layers of bureaucracy that will face him, so Opie has little hope of gaining the kind of visa that Omar was granted. "It's not fair," he said. "I gave them my blood. I gave them my life."
While Omar and everyone who has worked with him is thrilled that he was granted a visa, some believe that the amount of effort it took will be impossible to achieve for the thousands of other refugees in the same situation.
"It's indicative of a larger problem that it took so many people and a couple of little miracles," said Lowe. "These are translators who are risking their lives to help the military. I understand there are bureaucratic challenges, but I wish there was a better way."
Jason is encouraged, however, by what they have been able to do for Omar. "It gives us hope that we can help these guys out," he said. "We get to come home and go about our lives, and these guys are still there. Maybe this will open up a dialogue and a changing of procedures to help these guys out."
As for Omar, he is excited to be in the United State, but his arrival is bittersweet. He left behind his family, his fiancee and a broken country that he hopes to be able to return to one day. "As soon as Iraq gets better again, then, of course, I'm going to head back to my country," he said.
For now, he is settling into life in Kentucky — he is looking for a job, applying for a green card and eating McFarlane's homemade waffles. McFarlane took Omar shopping in a mall for the first time this week, and they have plans to visit fairs, festivals and a high school football game.
"I feel so lucky," said Omar. "I am seeing all these new colors and new cars and new people and looking to the beginning of my new life. Anybody in my shoes would be so happy."