While serving in the war in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Tom Schueman of Mt. Greenwood developed an unbreakable bond with an interpreter, Zainullah Zaki.
Now, after Zaki escapes from his home country, Schueman is working to help him stay in the United States for as long as he and his family want.
And, the two collaborated on a book documenting their service together.
“Forever Faithful: A Story of the War in Afghanistan, the Fall of Kabul, and the Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and an Interpreter” goes on sale Tuesday, August 9.
Schueman worked with dozens of performers, but Zaki, known as “Zak”, became something of a soldier, risking his life for the American cause.
“Zak has become one of us, one of our Marines,” Schueman said. “So much so that he accepted the mission…often to the point of going well beyond his duties as an interpreter.”
“Always Faithful” is told through the first-person alternating voices of Schueman and Zaki, and all the chilling experiences they share, Zaki and his young family’s escape from Afghanistan in August 2021, when the states United States ended the war and withdrew all their troops after two decades, is at the forefront.
Zaki and his family have tried three times to get to an airport and safely board a plane taking them out of the country, just as thousands of people did last summer when the Taliban quickly took control of the country.
Finally, on the third try, Schueman, working by text message with the Marines at Hamid Karzai International Airport, was able to make it a reality.
Zaki was told to send pictures of himself and his family to Schueman and another Marine at the airport and to put his young son, aged about 7, on his shoulders as he walked away. was approaching airport security checkpoints.
As Schueman recalled, about 90 minutes passed before he knew if Zaki and his family had managed to board a plane.
They had, and now Zaki works in the United States and takes care of his family, which includes his wife and three daughters aged 4 and under.
However, his ordeal is far from over.
Even though he helped the US Marines for much longer, he originally only had nine months of documented service needed to qualify for a US visa – and applicants needed a full year.
He and his supporters continue to work through red tape with the US State Department, and in April his last visa application was denied. they are currently appealing.
Leaving the United States, he might say, could be fatal.
“If I go back to Afghanistan, my family and I will get killed,” Zaki said. “That’s why I fight.”
Schueman, a graduate of Marist High School, completed two deployments to Afghanistan, serving approximately 17 months with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. He received a Purple Heart after he and others were ambushed in a field on November 9, 2010.
He met Zaki during his first deployment, and Zaki quickly developed a family relationship with the Marines, Schueman said.
He protected soldiers, taught them cultural nuances, and put his own life on the line.
On one occasion, Schueman said, Zaki sprinted out of a safe area and tackled an enemy soldier.
He also picked up a rifle after a Marine was injured and incapacitated, and Zaki was monitoring Taliban radio activity.
Schueman promised that if Zaki and his family needed help, he would return the favor. He admires her bravery.
“He was always driven to try to make Afghanistan a better country for his family and for his children,” Schueman said. “He was invested in the success of his country. … He hoped to stay there.
Zaki, 32, said he and Schueman shared a brotherhood. He admired how the United States was helping to build Afghanistan and bring peace, not only to his country, but to the whole world.
He would protect Schueman, and Schueman protected him.
“He took very good care of me,” Zaki said. “Then we had a friendship from then on.”
Zaki’s mother tongue is Pashto, which is spoken in Afghanistan, and he also knows Dari, another Afghan language, and learned English at school.
Fleeing Afghanistan, he said, put his life in danger. He and his family saw people being killed, so his children turned a blind eye at the airport.
When the United States withdrew in mid-August 2021, he knew the Taliban would try to kill him.
“It was a very scary moment,” Zaki said. “It was very, very dangerous – the worst moment of my life that I have ever seen.”
After escaping, he and his family flew to several American countries and cities, and he and Schueman appeared on many national news shows sharing his story and his struggle to stay in the United States.
Schueman is more than relieved that his friend is alive, but he knows there is still a long way to go to keep him out of harm’s way.
“The main thing is that he’s safe,” Schueman said, “but we want to make sure we get that visa.”
Schueman will host an event for “Always Faithful” on Thursday, August 11, 6-7 p.m., at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, 104 S. Michigan Ave.
Among his and Zaki’s supporters is U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who said the pair “offer a haunting account of the courage and sacrifice of American troops alongside their Afghan partners over the past two decades.”
“Against the backdrop of America’s longest war in history and hopes out of reach, their stories testify to the enduring human spirit.”
Zaki’s future remains murky. However, he is proud of the book he and Schueman wrote.
“It’s very good,” Zaki said. “I’m very excited about our story and our life.”