ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Pinned down by 40 Taliban insurgents, Matthew Zeller's unit needed help.
Their vehicles had already been devastated by an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenades, and the small group of soldiers that remained were outnumbered four-to-one by insurgents.
As grenades continued to rain down on the unit, two Taliban fighters tried to flank Zeller's position, and began sneaking up behind him for the kill.
Janis Shinwari got there first.
Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter who was working with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, ran up from the rear, shooting and killing the two insurgents before helping Zeller retreat to a safe zone. With other reinforcements also arriving, the unit escaped total devastation.
Ever since that April 2008 firefight, Zeller has told anyone willing to listen about how Shinwari had saved his life. And for the past five years, he's been worried that the man who rescued him would fall victim to a violent Taliban retaliation.
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But in September, Zeller was finally able to return Shinwari's life-saving favor, as he successfully lobbied the State Department to grant Shinwari one of the special immigrant visas that are being offered to Afghan and Iraqi interpreters. At a Washington, D.C., airport Tuesday evening, the two men met for the first time in five years.
"From this point forward, I'm his family, and he's mine, and I'm going to do anything I can to take care of him," said Zeller, a Rochester native who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.
It's been a tense summer for Shinwari and his family. In July, the U.S. military unit that he'd been working with in Afghanistan received word that it would be withdrawing from the country this month, and that the interpreters would be relieved of their duties.
For Shinwari, this meant losing the protection of the U.S. forces and being sent home from the military base where he and his family had been protected from the Taliban.
"The Taliban was threatening to kill me," said Shinwari, 36, a native of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. "They sent some messages to my home saying that they were killing people who were supporting the American soldiers in Afghanistan."
The threats were very real. Zeller said he knows of other interpreters who met their end after staying loyal to the U.S. troops. And while Shinwari had applied for a visa more than two years earlier, the process was slow and cumbersome. So when he found out the unit was leaving, he called Zeller to see if there was anything his friend could do to expedite the process.
Zeller, who now lives in Arlington, Va., started contacting government representatives and State Department officials, and after an online petition garnered 100,000 signatures, Shinwari's visa was finally granted in early September.
But then, just a few weeks later, it was revoked.
"I was very, very disappointed," said Shinwari. "I was disappointed because I did my job with honesty. But then my visa got revoked? Why?"
U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., stepped in, urging the State Department to re-evaluate Shinwari's case.
"Mr. Shinwari took on enormous personal risk to assist the U.S. in our mission to liberate the people of Afghanistan from Taliban rule," she wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. "He served honorably for seven years and deserves the opportunity to receive fair consideration for a new life in the U.S."
After several polygraph tests, Shinwari's visa was renewed, and he, his wife, and his two children were given permission to come to the United States. Shinwari later learned that an insurgent had sent the State Department an email claiming that Shinwari was loyal to the Taliban, in the hopes of preventing Shinwari from leaving the country.
It nearly worked. But Zeller credited Slaughter and others with helping to reopen Shinwari's case.
"She went above and beyond. She had her staff send letters and follow up with officials almost on a daily basis," said Zeller, who said that Slaughter had known about Shinwari since Zeller had met her during his 2010 congressional campaign. "I owe her a debt of gratitude."
Now that Shinwari is safely in the U.S., he wants to help the Afghan interpreters who made the same decision that he did - to join the American troops in the fight against the Taliban - but are still stuck overseas. In the hopes of speeding up the process, he will testify to Congress next week about his experiences and about the backlog of applications in the interpreter visa program. Of the 8,750 visas allocated for Afghan interpreters, fewer than 10 percent have been allocated, said Zeller.
Shinwari's hoping to start a new life in the United States. He's got a place to stay and bought his first groceries last night. On Wednesday, he was picking out a cellphone.
Next, he's hoping to find work.
"Everybody knows that we were interpreters, and if I can find the same job here, as a translator or interpreter, that would be very nice, because that's really my career now," he said.
He brought along his life savings - about $5,000 - while Zeller has started a fundraising campaign to help him get settled. Thanks to their mutual bond, the two will forever remain close.
"Last night, we met in Washington, D.C., and I told him, 'Brother, you promised me you'd save my life,'" said Shinwari. "Now, he did."