DALLAS — It was a moment of light after a harrowing escape from Afghanistan.
On Sunday afternoon, Afghan refugee Mohammad Afzal Afzali, his wife and two young children flew into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. They've spent the last two months at Fort Bliss in El Paso, where they were being processed.
Sunday, they were met with a warm welcome.
His brother, who lives in Dallas with his family, was there to greet him. Friends who are helping them transition into their new lives in America held up welcome signs and balloons.
Afzali’s family walked into an apartment filled with donations, furniture and essential needs lined the walls. He stood by and watched his children play with donated toys.
A feeling of gratitude overwhelmed him.
“For this day, we worked a lot,” said Afzali. “We were in a lot of difficult situations. People say to get to the heaven, you have to go through the hell. We went through the hell, honestly.”
For years, Afzali worked as an advisor to U.S. forces. He served as a program manager for U.S. Army special operations command and as a contractor working with coalition forces.
When Kabul fell to the Taliban in August, getting out of the country became a matter of life and death for the father of two.
Afzali told WFAA he risked his own life and that of his family as he traveled from their home to the Kabul airport during the takeover. For two weeks, Afzali’s family traveled to the airport gates in hopes of getting on a plane and evacuating.
“One time, I was there for more than 30 hours,” said Afzali.
His daughter nearly collapsed in the sweltering heat. His children begged to return home. Afzali said they didn’t understand what was happening around them. At that point, he almost gave up.
“There were explosions and gunfire the whole night,” said Afzali.
He was at the airport when the two suicide bombs exploded. His family was on the opposite side of the explosions.
“Imagine that… this is a very difficult situation and you’re with your kids, your family, anything could happen,” said Afzali.
Finally, two friends in the U.S. who worked with him in Afghanistan coordinated a plan to help him escape. They were Scott Sadler and Brennan Heuser, and Afzali said he owes his life to them.
For two weeks, they worked endlessly from D.C. and Colorado as they tried to help Afzali evacuate from across the world.
A few days before the U.S.’s deadline to evacuate Afghan refugees, Afzali and his family boarded a plane and took off. Afzali not only got his family out of the country safely, he also helped four unaccompanied children escape. Their mother is already in the U.S., and their father passed away in Afghanistan.
Arriving to Dallas and reuniting with his brother is a day Afzali thought would never come.
“In my heart it was really difficult… because the kids didn’t deserve this… but we had to. We had to go through that hardship to get out of Afghanistan. But finally, I’m glad that we made it and we’re out of there,” said Afzali.
Afzali thanked DFW Refugee Outreach Services and the Dallas Refugee Project and countless other organizations for helping his family integrate into their new lives.
He already has several job interviews lined up, and he's in conversations with companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, Amazon and Pfizer.
Afzali said the greatest dream fulfilled is to watch his children have the opportunity to receive a quality education in the U.S., especially his daughter. He feared an education would be impossible for her in Afghanistan.
It’s the end of a terrifying escape and the beginning of a new journey in America.