What’s in it for me? Meet the heroes behind the mission to rescue thousands of American allies from Afghanistan.

How have I not heard of this story before? This is what you’ll be thinking after listening to this Blink.

When America announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, former US Marine Chad Robichaux just wanted to get his former brother-in-arms safely out of the country. Instead, he ended up co-founding an effort that is still operating out of the Ukraine – even in the midst of Russian invasion – to rescue American allies from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

In the Blink ahead, you’ll meet two heroes on opposite sides of the world whose friendship was the impetus for saving the lives of so many. Have your faith in humanity restored by this story of courage and compassion triumphing, even in the most horrific circumstances.


Every story has a hero – this one has many

After 9/11, the US went to war to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan. That’s what you need to know in terms of the setting of this story. Chad Robichaux was a Force Recon Marine – one of the toughest of the tough – and was working special operations in the war-ridden country.

Aziz was a married, twenty-five-year-old father, already teaching English to his fellow countrymen, when a US Marine recruited him as an interpreter. During his training, Aziz stood out as something special, and quickly went to work with Chad and his team.

Over the years working together, the two men formed a strong friendship, so much so that Aziz’s kids called Chad “uncle.” One day, Chad joined Aziz and his family for a night of food, fellowship, and to watch the US election to see if George W. Bush would win another term.

Chad thought it was odd that US elections were of such interest to Aziz and his countrymen, so he asked his friend why.

In response, Aziz took Chad to an abandoned building with a pool built into the ground. The pool was empty and Aziz climbed in. Chad followed and watched as Aziz pointed to the wall of the pool on the deep end. There were stains and bullet holes at the head-level of someone kneeling. Chad knew instantly that this was a place where executions were held.

Aziz pointed out another row of bullet holes – these at the height of small children. Chad was sick to his stomach.

“This is why,” Aziz told him. Many Afghan citizens were old enough to remember a time when Afghanistan had experienced a brief period of freedom – an especially liberating time for women in the 1970s. But then war came and out of it rose a new element of ultra-conservative mujahideen, called the Taliban.

In the post-9/11 era, Afghan citizens were prepared to fight with their lives to stop the Taliban from taking control: to protect their daughters from being sold off or worse, to prevent their sons from being sent to their deaths. Citizens like Aziz looked to the US for salvation.

Chad took the memory of the pool with him into every operation. He understood what was on the line for families like Aziz’s – heroes among so many of them.


Bravery can arise in anyone

Aziz was so much more than an English teacher and interpreter. Time and again he proved himself a worthy operations man, capable of handling intense situations and possessing an uncanny instinct for trouble.

In one instance, Chad had hired a man named Jerry to work out of his office. One day, the Taliban attacked the building next door and blew a hole through the wall of Chad’s office. Jerry was there at the time and didn’t know what to do.

When Chad declared that he was going in to rescue Jerry, Aziz was right by his side without being asked. They went in and Aziz laid down cover fire, while Chad got Jerry out of the building.

Aziz could always be counted on to join in the fight and put his life on the line for the team.

In another situation, Chad’s team was alerted of an opportunity to purchase some artillery. The contact wasn’t familiar to him, but Chad had done business with a mutual acquaintance, so he felt comfortable enough to do the deal.

As they prepared, Aziz got a bad feeling. He insisted on taking a couple more men, which turned out to be wise.

They went to the meetup location, and Aziz and some of the men positioned themselves as lookouts to watch for anyone approaching. The contact arrived and showed the goods, but he appeared nervous.

Sure enough, another vehicle came up to the gate – unannounced and unexpected. Thanks to Aziz, Chad’s team had the upper hand, tied up the contact and the new arrivals, grabbed the guns and went home.

Aziz was a good man to have around. His instincts and actions saved Chad’s life on more than one occasion. Aziz was brave and selfless. That’s why the rest of this story exists.


Some details are best left unsaid

Chad’s “goodbye” to Aziz had been as casual as they come. They’d just gotten back from a successful operation and Chad took Aziz back home. They laughed about some things and said an easy “see you later.”

Shortly after, Chad was called to the Persian Gulf and informed that he had been compromised. A Taliban group had captured ten of Chad’s allies and killed all but two of them.

However, Chad felt that the operation in Afghanistan was worth the personal risk, so he returned to continue his work. Shortly after, he was captured, held, and interrogated for a couple of hours. Chad won’t share any details about those hours, but when he was released for reasons unknown to him, he was shaken.

US forces soon found and engaged with the people responsible for killing Chad’s allies. After that operation, Chad happened to be out when his home in Afghanistan was blown up. No one was hurt, but Chad found himself increasingly overcome by PTSD.

Realizing he was a liability to his team, he called his command and said he was sick. He told them he couldn’t go to a local doctor. He needed someone in the Gulf. This was code that he was in trouble.


Warriors don’t easily become victims

Chad went through a great deal of personal strife over the years that followed. Civilian life didn’t sit well with him and he immersed himself in Mixed Martial Arts – known as MMA fighting.

He finally hit rock bottom when his marriage was about to fall apart. At that point, he found faith, and rebuilt his life with a new mission – helping veterans heal and reintegrate into civilian life. This was when he founded the Mighty Oaks Foundation.

Then on April 14, 2021, President Biden followed through on what his predecessor – President Trump – had started, and declared that America would be leaving Afghanistan by September 11 of that year.

That date got Chad’s attention. He knew that for the past several years, Aziz had been trying to acquire a Special Immigration Visa. As someone who had served the US as a civilian interpreter, he was more than eligible. But paperwork did what paperwork does and moved at snail’s pace.

The impending withdrawal date put a clock on Aziz’s situation. He had to get his family to safety before September 11.

Chad swung into action, raising money for an operation to go in and rescue Aziz and his family. He and his small team made plans. But in July, the president moved the exit date forward to August 31, and things got complicated.

For starters, at the airport in Kabul, Aziz and his family couldn’t get past the Taliban and the US Marines, who were overseeing the withdrawal of troops and trying to crowd-control the thousands of civilians attempting to flee.

Learning of this, Chad’s focus changed. It didn’t make sense to rescue just one family when his team was putting together the mechanisms that could rescue thousands. So Chad made a new plan and Save Our Allies was born.

Chad partnered with several foundations and non-governmental organizations. Together, they raised millions of dollars to help rescue American citizens and allies trying to get out of Afghanistan.

Once everything was up and running, Chad flew to Afghanistan to finally see his friend again.


A thousand a day

Save Our Allies found friends in many countries who agreed to help shelter refugees. The UAE was the most generous, allowing Chad and his team to use their city as a home base.

Let’s pause a moment to get a sense of the landscape this mission is playing out in.

Outside Kabul airport, everything is in chaos. US Marines are holding their ground, keeping the masses from pouring into the airport. Further out, the Taliban has set up checkpoints and is making it difficult for people to pass through. And among all this, thousands of people are trying desperately to leave the country.

Save Our Allies were focused on rescuing American citizens and allies who had applied to emigrate to America. Sometimes, evacuations were done under the cover of night. Other times, they could be run during the day, shifting busloads of people from the chaos into the airport and on to one of the nations that had agreed to host refugees until they could be further vetted before being flown to the US.

Every operation had the potential to go horribly wrong – with devastating consequences for evacuee and rescuer alike. On one mission, a US Marine stopped the bus and demanded to see proof that all the people onboard had the right to pass through to the airport. The mission leader tried to convince him to let them through, but he demanded they return to the Taliban checkpoints and enter legally.

The people on that bus were dispersed and we don’t know if any of them ever made it back.

As heartbreaking as that story is, there are stories of success. Chad’s team rescued a thousand people a day. Luckily, Aziz and his family were among them.


Friendships forged in fire last forever

Three days after Chad made it to the UAE to assist in rescue operations, he was finally able to reunite with Aziz. The meeting was emotional. Aziz’s children called him Uncle Chad and the family welcomed him with open arms.

The refugees housed in the UAE were given apartments as temporary accommodations, so Aziz and his family were able to host him, as they had back during Chad’s time in Afghanistan.

But things were chaotic. The housing was great, but there was no system to move people around and reunite them with loved ones. This drove Aziz crazy and he immediately took charge. He went from refugee to organizer almost immediately, streamlining the process of getting people into their apartments and coordinating interventions to help people find each other.

That’s just the kind of person Aziz is. He’s a leader when the situation needs one.

Save Our Allies worked tirelessly to save over 10,000 allies before enemy fire blew up one of the airport gates, killing thirteen American service members and two hundred other people. This event slowed down – but didn’t end – the rescue process.

In the time following the American withdrawal date, Save Our Allies has continued to design and implement operations to rescue Afghani allies and any remaining US citizens. Unlike the rescue at the airport, there was no longer an easy way to shuttle people out of the country.

Instead, highly-planned covert operations take place, saving families one at a time. There are stories we’ll likely never hear. Then there are some that are a little more high profile, like when Save Our Allies joined with some other organizations to fly the FIFA women’s soccer team to Qatar, and some MMA fighters to Abu Dhabi. Or the time they saved fifty-five US citizens and flew them straight to New York City.

But Save Our Allies’ mission doesn’t end once someone is rescued. It also helps improve settlement life for refugees, helps allies transition to their new homes, and funds mental health care for those who served in war efforts.

Their mission is ongoing, and evacuations from Afghanistan are expected to continue until well into 2024.

If two men hadn’t built a bond through war that inspired one to leave his comfortable home to rescue the other, the lives of over 17,000 refugees would not be continuing today.


Final Summary

People are capable of great things in the name of friendship. Chad and Aziz built a forever friendship forged in war. Even after thirteen years and a long retirement, Chad was willing to gear up and go in for his friend. Because of the power of that relationship, over 17,000 refugees have been rescued from Afghanistan.