Movie highlights struggle of Afghan interpreters

Four-time Emmy winner and American Legion member Robert Ham has a new documentary, “Interpreters Wanted,” which tells the story of Afghan men who chose to work with U.S. troops. He discusses making the film, working during his deployment and more on this week’s episode of The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast.

The documentary, a story 14 years in the making, focuses on Saifullah Haqmal and his brother, Ismail, and Ham, one of the soldiers they befriended in their years of service to the United States.

Ham, an Army combat veteran and member of American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood, says that he was interested in creating documentary films before his service. He went to Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Meade.

“It’s kind of like the art rejects,” said Ham, who earlier graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts MFA program. “We all felt the same. We were all kind of rejects from whatever art world we were in and we were thrown into this military arts school. It was really fun. I was a bit more advanced than some of the other folks because I already had a degree in it.”

Ham did several documentaries during his Afghanistan deployment in 2009, including an attack on an outpost on July 4, which eventually led to “Interpreters Wanted.”

“I’m really proud of this project,” he said. “It’s my latest feature documentary. It’s a real personal story. It’s a story about me and my two interpreters, and their story.”

When Ham’s deployment ends, Saifullah and Ismail’s support to U.S. forces continues for years. As the Taliban threat to the Haqmal brothers’ lives grows more urgent, their communication with Ham becomes more desperate, as they wait years for their Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) approval. It was a dicey situation, made even more dire when the Taliban retook control after the U.S. pulled out.

“Without giving away too much of the story, both of them were able to get to America,” Ham said. “It was a long journey for us and it was super emotional.”

The documentary will first head to film festivals before being available on Vet TV. For now, you can watch the trailer and learn more here.

Daly and Gutermuth also riff on:

The announcement of VA and the National Institutes of Health kicking off a five-year study of Gulf War Illness.

• The arrest of an Air National Guardsmen after he tried to find a job as a hit man — on a parody website.

• A Flags of Gratitude Memorial, created by an Eagle Scout who is also a Sons of The American Legion member in Arizona.

Check out this week’s episode, which is among more than 170 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on iTunes, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.