My Uber Driver the War Hero

This post is from Benjamin Noble. See his post on Linkedin Pulse, and follow him on Twitter @tangledlinks. Many thanks to him for the use of his story!

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I view every connection as valuable. That mantra helps me treat every interaction, with every person, with infinite curiosity. Ask questions. Get answers. The formula quickly injects fascinating and valuable people into your life. I met one such person unexpectedly in what was supposed to be your run-of-the-mill Uber trip from the airport.

“How was your, flight?” my Uber driver politely queried while loading my luggage in the back of his car.

I met the question with a description of my eight-hour trip, offering a fair amount more detail than courtesy dictates.

“How has your night been?” I retorted.

He talked. I listened. The driver hadn’t made much off his slow night runaround. Luckily, my destination promised a decent fare.

I listened intently as he talked.

“I’m terrified of flying.”

“Oh, why is that?”

I really wanted to know, and I sensed that few people had really cared to probe the driver for anything beyond small talk.

“Well, it looks like we have a bit of time to kill. So, I suppose I’ll tell you. I’m from Afghanistan.”

I wasn’t terribly surprised. He had a clear accent, and Uber drivers are often from international backgrounds. But I wasn’t prepared for what followed…

“I served the Afghanistan embassy as an investigator. I worked with America during the war to help remove a group called The Taliban from power. One day while flying with your military, an RPG hit the tail of our helicopter. We managed to stay in the air, but with almost no stability. It took 3 hours to get back to the base and I was terrified for the whole ride.”

I struggled to keep my jaw off the floor.

“Wha… how… what are you doing here?”

He continued to describe how he worked with the U.S. to try to repair the local governments. Seal Team 6, Special Forces, Delta Force… he worked with them all. Even bigger. He fought with them all.

“I speak nine languages. I helped your military find their way around. I fought with them, and in exchange they helped keep me secure. My government couldn’t do much for me. It was corrupt and broken. I wasn’t paid well, but I did what I thought was right.”

I started to well up with tears. This wasn’t bragging. His voice was too matter-of-fact. There was an undertone of gratitude, and it kept me hooked.

“One day, a soldier asked me why I was helping. I told him it was what was right. He asked about my benefits, what security my government offered my family, what would happen if I died. I told him ‘if I die, I die.’ It was not my government’s nature to think outside of itself.”

He went on to explain how, as a government official in a war-torn region, threats were made daily to him and his family.

“It wasn’t anything I didn’t expect. ‘I’ll kill you. Your family is going to die.’ I didn’t take it seriously… until one day. I was away from home and a grenade was thrown through my window. My mother, father and sister were all wounded. It took three months for them to recover, but luckily they all survived.”

At this point I was swallowing gobs of humility. I couldn’t imagine his circumstances and trying to was an emotional rollercoaster.

He wrapped up his story by explaining that the attack on his family prompted the U.S. to intervene and provide him an expedited green card for his military service. His family was moved to a secure location and he was shipped off to the U.S. for asylum.

“But what about your family?”

I could sense the answer wasn’t going to lift the mood.

“My family must stay in Afghanistan until I can get American passports issued. I’ve been here for two years, another three and they will be ready. I work and send money to my family. We move them every two weeks so they can’t be found. I am grateful for my job, but it is very expensive in this city. I have to make enough for myself, but if I do not send my family anything, they do not eat.”

Before I had a chance to offer any sympathy, he parried with his own silver lining.

“…I am blessed though. I got out, which is more than others can say, and I am working toward a goal. The first six months in America, I was lost. But I’ve figured things out. Uber has been great for helping to find me work. I can not prove my work experience to companies, so finding good work has been hard. My country hasn’t been great about documenting my work. At least I can do this.”

The remainder of the trip my driver expounded his gratitude, running through a list of things he enjoys. He scoffed at how many of his riders kick off their trips with complaints about minuscule things.

We pulled into my driveway, and I thanked him (possibly for another 5 minutes). I asked for his information and scratched down his contact info.

He smiled when he left, as though I had given him something special.

He is a hero. One most people will never know or talk about. He doesn’t have a badge or uniform, and we don’t salute him. I can’t list his name here because I don’t think it’d be a good idea given the circumstances.

I was honored to have this unsung hero as my Uber driver. Today, I’m hoping to give him a voice. It’s not much, but it’s the least I can do.