The lone female interpreter in the Pashtun province in Afghanistan, Shakilla Zikeria, was recently honored for her role in aiding American soldiers during an attack. The Americans were en route to a medical outreach with a group of women when things took a turn for the worse:
"I was in the truck (when the attack began), Zikeria said in a telephone interview Monday. "Everybody was inside the truck. First, my heart was beating so fast. Later on, I asked my God, I said, 'Please help me. Please help my soldiers."
After 45 minutes of fighting, the gunner with her in the back seat asked her to help get the ammunition to reload. She did this multiple times. She said the fighting lasted about 12 hours.
Just a day later, according to a representative for the Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktya, which employs Zikeria, the convoy traveled that same route again – past the day-old "kill zone" – to keep their meeting with the local women.
Zikeria also found that she was able to use her knowledge of Afghan culture to "gather information about insurgent operations in the area" that the men in uniform had been unable to solicit.
Air Force 1st Lt. Sybil Taunton said:
"Shakilla is great with local women and builds a level of trust with them immediately that has helped us move forward in women's affairs," Taunton said in an email from Afghanistan.
"We are operating in an extremely traditional Pashtun province where access to Afghan women is limited," Taunton said. "The women aren't as quick to open up to those of us in uniform when they see us come rolling up in armored trucks wearing all of (our) gear and weapons.
"Shakilla has helped us to capitalize on the few engagements we have been able to coordinate by fostering a relaxed and open environment."
Zikeria has resided in Sacramento since 1986 and eventually went on to become a naturalized American citizen.
She says she plans to extend her stay in Afghanistan for a few more years. Bravo.
Sacramento woman honored for bravery in Afghanistan [The Sacramento Bee]
Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Barry Loo, Paktya Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs.