Story and photos by U.S. Marine Cpl. Meredith Brown
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Mirali was 27 years old. He took up arms to protect his country and his family in Daykundi, located in south central Afghanistan.
While fighting against the Soviet Army, Mirali’s leg was injured when he took shrapnel from a rocket. He was later captured in his village and tortured by the Russians.
“They would persecute me and beat my fingers and they knocked out my teeth,” Mirali explained. “They captured me because I was supporting the [Afghan] government and protecting my country.”
Mirali escaped from the Russians and fled to Pakistan. He stayed there for a year before returning to Afghanistan.
“God kept me alive because it wasn’t my time,” Mirali said.
His parents had passed away and two of his brothers immigrated to Iran. The remainder of his family was killed during the Soviet invasion.
After enduring the hardship of the Russian invasion, the Taliban rose to power and Mirali had to endure another storm under the regime’s rule.
His family had left him a small home with some land but that was taken from him when the Taliban came to power.
“Before the Taliban were here, we had a good, comfortable life and the farming was good,” Mirali recalled. “As soon as the Taliban came in life became hard.”
Mirali did everything in his power to continue to live in Afghanistan, performing labor-intense jobs to make ends meet.
He married his first wife and they had two daughters together. However, his wife and oldest daughter died from natural causes.
Once this happened, Mirali moved to Iran, where his youngest daughter still lives today. He met his second wife while in Iran and they moved back to Afghanistan and had a son together.
However, without land to farm, making a sufficient living was nearly impossible for Mirali and his family. So he left them in Daykundi and went back to Iran to find a job. After working there for a short period of time, he returned to his village to find that his wife and son had been murdered during a civil war between villages.
That is when Mirali took matters into his own hands and joined the Afghan National Army.
“Afghanistan is my country and these are my people,” Mirali said. “As long as I’m alive I just want to serve them.”
He has been serving in the Army for the past five years as an infantry and artillery soldier in the 215th Corps. During this time, Staff Sgt. Mirali received the opportunity to go to the Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest, on Camp Leatherneck, and take part in the Small Arms Weapons Instructor Course, where he excelled as a student, quickly learning the different weapons systems.
JSAS offers Afghan National Security Forces troops the opportunity to continue their military education past initial training. The academy offers a variety of skills of Afghan troops to learn; everything from leadership, to weapons handling, and techniques, to generator mechanic courses.
Throughout the course at JSAS, Mirali learned to operate and maintain at least 10 different weapon systems ranging from a pistol to a heavy machine gun.
“It’s important to be able to learn these skills at JSAS because no matter what Afghan force you are, you need to be familiar with these weapons so you can defend your country,” Mirali said.
After completing the course, Mirali was selected to stay at JSAS and serve as an Afghan instructor alongside coalition troops.
“What we’re trying to do here is to get the Afghans to teach themselves,” explained Sgt. Kevin Saffell, an instructor at JSAS. “He is helping with that because they respect him. He has actually experienced these things himself and they listen to him a little more than someone who hasn’t and just reads the information.”
Mirali explained that the information and skills he learned as a student is invaluable and is something that he wants to pass on to the new students in the weapons course, in addition to his knowledge and experience from the battlefield.
His positive attitude and can-do attitude is welcomed by the students and fellow instructors.
“He is a sweet heart… I don’t know how else to say that,” Saffell, a native of Ventura, Calif., said. “He is a perfect example of someone who has been through a lot of turmoil in his life and does not let that get to him and it doesn’t affect his performance or personality. He jokes around with us and it makes everything a little more memorable.”
Though Mirali has endured many hardships from the Soviets and Taliban, he continues to persevere.
“I’m healthy and my body is still good, so no matter where I am I just try my hardest to be happy and good,” said Mirali.
“Death is in God’s hand, but as long as I’m alive and here, I’m just hoping and praying that Afghanistan will be able to move forward and take responsibility for its defense.”