A Sanpete County man who served in the U.S. Navy and was sent to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and help rebuild the country there is now on a mission to rescue his Afghan friends.
As a fellow interpreter, Commander Carl Sullivan of Sterling forged deep friendships with Afghan interpreters while he was deployed there from 2011-2013, and he is troubled that many of his friends and thousands of innocent Afghans have been left behind.
Many Afghan interpreters, former military members and women’s rights activists are a primary target of the Taliban, and they are fighting to stay alive by hiding in basements without food or money or resources to escape.
“Everyone that served in Afghanistan is deeply troubled by this situation, and most of us feel that we have left our buddies on the battlefield,” Sullivan said. He is referring to the decision to pull the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, which led to the fall of the Afghan government and the rise of the Taliban.
But Sullivan is not a man to forsake his fellow human beings. Day and night, he has been trying to rescue his Afghan interpreter friends, Aziz and Faiz. He is trying to get other families out of the country as well. He calls his friend Aziz every day and sends him about $300 per month so he can buy food and supplies. Sullivan and his ex-boss, Navy Capt. Lou Anne DeMattei, also send about $300 a month to eight other Afghan families as well.
Another man Sullivan is trying to help is named Sayed. He served with the US military forces and came to the U.S. on a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) a couple of years ago. Sayed lost his father to the Taliban some time ago and his brother has now been missing for over a month, Sullivan said.
Sayed was trying to bring his wife to America and she was ready to go for her visa appointment when Biden gave Afghanistan away. As a result, she is now among those hiding in basements and being moved around every couple of days to be saved. These types of tragedies are common, and these are among the people that Sullivan is trying to help. Sullivan said that there are seven other gentlemen he knows of just in Utah who are separated from their wives.
Sullivan has been in constant contact with the U.S. State Department SIV Office to get visas for his friends. The progress is painstakingly slow, but some people have been rescued.
The battle against the U.S. bureaucracy has been extremely frustrating and exhausting, he says. It was not easy working with the State Department under the Trump administration, but it’s worse now—intentional neglect.
The Biden administration has turned its backs on the Afghan people who risked their lives to help the U.S. military, and now the State Department continually denies requests to set up a safety zone (or launching pad) in “lily pad” countries to get evacuees across the border.
One thing about this job, Sullivan said: “You are always seemingly fighting your country, and you always feel alone.”
Finding flights for evacuees and securing passports for family members has been nearly impossible, Sullivan said. It is getting even harder today, as the Taliban won’t approve passports for outsiders. In addition, since the fall, the Chinese Communist Party has moved into the country, and they are coaching the Taliban on how to target Afghans who speak English.
The economy in Afghanistan has collapsed and there isn’t much food for people. “Everyone is starving to death,” he said. “And no one can work.” Suicides and atrocities are widespread.
The situation has grown even more serious for anyone who was an enemy of the Taliban, so Sullivan has been working with other military officers to rescue as many people as possible.
Sullivan and his group are trying everything they can think of to rescue people. Besides going through official channels and trying to find flights, they are devising ground crossings, underground operations, paying rescue groups or “shepherds” and paying off the Taliban. All this requires funding and donations.
Sullivan has contacted Rep. Chris Stewart and a number of other congressmen about his plight. He hopes that a well-known high-level leader will become involved in the rescue effort.
In the meantime, Sullivan is not waiting for the State Department to make a move. He is opening up his house to as many Afghan refugees as he can handle.
Sullivan and his wife Masae are now in the process of retrofitting their home in Sterling and adding living quarters in the basement so they can shelter Afghan families who have sought refuge in Utah. The house should be ready to take in refugees in January.
The idea, said Masae, is to take care of a couple of families at a time until they secure green cards and find jobs.
The domicile would be a temporary place for them to stay until they get their lives together and find a permanent home.
Most of the Afghan refugees coming to Utah are from the Hazara minority, said Masae. They are good, hard-working people, she said, with many of them learning to become professionals in time.
There are currently about 800 Hazara refugees living in Salt Lake City, Masae said. They are stuck in motel rooms, with minimal food stamps. They arrived in Utah with the clothes on their back, and not much else.
The Hazara people have been discriminated against and they are targeted by the Taliban. Being Shia Muslims, they are persecuted for their religious beliefs, and being of a different ethnic group, they are easy to spot for abuse, Sullivan said. The Hazaras live in a mountain region similar to Sanpete County, and they are fond of rural living.
“Most of them have served with U.S. forces,” he said. “They were big friends of us, and it makes it even worse for them.”
These are among the people, along with their group still in hiding, that the Sullivans want to take care of. The Sullivans are asking for donations of cash, dishes, food and hygiene items.
“We are also looking for others, maybe empty-nesters, who would be willing to take in some other Afghan families,” Masae said.
The Sullivans are in the process of creating a webpage or GoFundMe account to help with their relief efforts. If you’d like to help, contact Carl at 801-369-1501 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sullivan said the Hazara would assimilate well into Sanpete’s high mountain valleys. He said there is a group of Hazara that are interested in buying about 10 acres of land here.
Sullivan thinks that a small community of Hazara people will eventually move down this way. “They are wonderful people,” he said. “To know them is to love them. When you learn their story, you just have to help. They will be great Sanpeters.”
Sullivan grew up in Colorado Springs and converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a young man; he then went on a mission to Japan in 1978. He learned to speak Japanese fluently, and when he returned from his mission, he earned a BA in Asian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MA in Japanese from BYU.
He came to Sanpete County to teach Japanese at Snow College in 1991. Earlier, he had joined the U.S. Navy and continued his service for decades as an information operations officer, interpreter and expert in Asian Studies, among other duties. He also speaks Korean. He retired from the Navy in 2013.
Carl and Masae now own and operate a Japanese and Korean translation business called MasaCa Translations. They run the business from their mountain home near the Palisades Reservoir in Sterling.
They met in the year 2000 when he was teaching at Snow College and she was working on her PhD at BYU. Both were divorced with children. Carl combined his six kids from his first marriage with Masae’s four kids to form a “Brady Bunch” family with 10 kids. Their daughter Chisato lives in Sterling, and they have two children in the military, among them all.
As far as combining forces to help out the Afghan refugees, Masae is in charge of remodeling the house and finding donations, while Carl is focused on rescuing the Afghans who are in danger in the country.
Sullivan built his house in 2004, and he doesn’t plan on moving anywhere else. They love Sanpete.