WATCH | A flamboyant, dedicated and fiercely loyal interpreter named Saber Rock helped U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan win over villagers and turn the tide against the Taliban.
To watch Circa's full documentary about his story, click here.
Lt. Col. Mark DeVito and Gunnery Sgt. Kelly Hughes first met Saber Rock when they were stationed in Helmand Province. Without hesitation, Rock walked up to them and started to poke fun at Hughes. DeVito and Hughes looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"Whenever Rock ends up someplace everyone gets to know him," said DeVito. "He is one of those people with unbelievable charisma, off the charts." Even in the midst of war Rock always had a way to make people laugh, DeVito added.
Driving a wedge
DeVito and Hughes were part of two five-man civil affairs teams that were tasked with covering Helmand Province. Their main goal was to drive a wedge between the Taliban and the community.
Since none of the Marines spoke Pastho, the interpreter was seen as a lynchpin to the success of their mission. Lt. Col. Graham Shannon was a Royal Irish Ranger also stationed at Helmand Province. Understanding their mission, Shannon gave DeVito his best interpreter, Saber Rock.
Violence in the Sangin District of Helmand Province
In 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "the district was one of the most dangerous, not just in Afghanistan, but maybe in the whole world." Sangin is a major route for the Taliban's opium trade.
A brotherhood is born
While the Marines only served with Rock for five months, their bond with him is lifelong. "He was kind of like that little brother who you tease all the time but you really love having around," said Staff Sergeant Brian Blue. "He was always cracking jokes and lightening the mood. But when it came down to it he knew how to do his job and he did it extremely well."
Rock's unique skill set
Using an enemy radio, Rock listened in on Taliban communications. This vital intelligence kept coalition forces from being ambushed, and aware of when they were being followed. He was also the team's sixth sense and had a knack for knowing when situations seemed "off." DeVito recognized that Rock was exceptional and eventually began giving him more objectives. Rather than painstakingly going through word-for-word translations with locals, DeVito would let Rock have in-depth conversations with them to break the ice.
"Rock was a force multiplier," said DeVito. "He provided an economy of force that we never would have had. Rock believed in what we were doing and talked with people in a really genuine manner. He was able to win over anybody."
Teenagers at risk
"The teenagers were being influenced by the Taliban... they were throwing grenades, setting up IEDs, monitoring our patrols, and they were just kids," DeVito said.
Connecting with children
The Marines had talked about starting schools for the children. Rock would read them storybooks and warned them about the Taliban. He explained how they were hurting their communities by fighting near their homes and should "go on the mountains and fight there, fight somewhere else."
Rock was a hit with the kids. "To the children he was a rock star," Hughes said. "He was one of the most important people that helped us drive a wedge between the Taliban and the community."
Taking care of the interpreters that serve with U.S. troops
Helping coalition forces comes at a price. Rock and his family were targeted by the Taliban, and a $300,000 bounty was put on his head. Many other interpreters have faced similar threats. The key to protecting the people who help U.S. troops is the Special Immigration Visa (SIV). SIV applications are only available to those who helped the U.S. for at least a year and are in grave danger. With 15,000 people waiting for just a few thousand SIV's, many are targeted and killed by the Taliban.
Circa is donating some proceeds from its documentary
Circa announced over the weekend that it is planning to donate some of the proceeds from its documentary about Saber Rock to a nonprofit wiling to help bring the interpreter home safely. You can read the details here.