Late Wednesday evening, Schueman received word that their mission had been successful – Zak, his wife and their four young children secured their passage to safety. It’s a happy ending to a journey that was anything but simple or easy.
As Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Sunday, Schueman desperately tried to find a way out of the country for Zak, one of many Afghans and Americans still trapped as the government crumbles around them. Schueman said he made countless calls, texts and social media posts to find someone who could help his friend.
“He wasn’t just a translator, he was my brother, basically one of my Marines,” Schueman told “Nightline.” “I have a lifelong commitment to the people I serve and lead.”
Watch the full story on “Nightline” TONIGHT at 12:35 a.m. ET on ABC
Schueman continued his search for help as hours turned to days.
Afghanistan is less than a month away from the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, after which the United States invaded the country. The invasion, dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom, led to nearly two decades of fighting.
Major Shueman was one of them. No stranger to war sacrifice, he earned a Purple Heart while serving and, like many soldiers, lost dear friends.
He said he met a young performer in 2010, who was given a pseudonym – Zak – due to concerns for his safety. Schueman said Zak saved his life several times.
Major Scheuman has spent the past five years trying to help Zak obtain a visa for the United States
“I think it’s a very simple transaction. You serve in the US forces and we will provide you with a visa,” Schueman said. “He served in the US forces, we didn’t provide the visa. I think it’s treason.”
As the Taliban took province by province in just over a week, Zak spent days in Kabul working to get the documents he needed for himself, his wife and four children – all under the age of 5 years – to escape. Meanwhile, Schueman worked from the United States to design an exit strategy.
“What the Taliban do to people who work with the United States, they execute them,” Schueman said. “So it’s not kind of a ‘what if’ scenario, it’s what will happen if we can’t get Zak to the airport and on a flight.”
Afghan refugees have found themselves in a nightmarish situation, where a call, a day or a moment can mean the difference between life and death. After hours of calls, Schueman said he received the one he had been waiting for Sunday evening: Zak and his family finally began the 80-minute walk from their home to the airport.
That glimmer of hope disappeared, however, when Zak left this voicemail on Schueman’s phone: “We’re just going back to our apartment because there was gunfire everywhere.”
In a video diary late Sunday night, Schueman said, “We’ve exhausted every action I can think of – it’s about midnight. We’ll stay with them all night here and pray for them.
Despite the setback, Schueman was still focused on finding a way out for Zak and his family. The next day, the family returned to the airport on their second attempt to leave.
In video obtained by ABC News from this second attempt, Zak’s daughters could be seen crying as a loud bang could be heard. A few hours later they returned home with no progress
The Pentagon said 6,000 US troops have been deployed to Kabul, the country’s capital, as the military rushes to evacuate people. Pentagon officials said their goal remains to maintain the perimeter of the airport and increase the number of evacuees.
On Wednesday, ousted President Ashraf Ghani posted a video on Facebook confirming that he had fled to the United Arab Emirates with his family, leaving behind thousands of desperate citizens too scared to leave their homes.
Schueman, however, managed to work a miracle for Zak. He said he found someone at the airport ready to search for Zak’s family. He said the man texted Zak, telling him to look up at a tower and put his son on his shoulders. Forty minutes later, Schueman received a message: “I got it.”
After several attempts to get to the airport, Zak, his wife and four young children secured seats on a plane from Kabul.
The United States has evacuated about 9,000 people since August 14, according to a White House official, with 3,000 people evacuated on Thursday and double that number expected to be transported by 20 flights on Friday.
Between 5,000 and 7,000 people will need to be evacuated daily to meet the August 31 withdrawal deadline, Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday.
Zak and his family landed in Qatar on Thursday. As they wait for his wife’s passport papers, two of his children are now sick. The whole family faces a long road, nevertheless relieved to have been able to escape.