Veterans Day profile: Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Matt Zeller
As the nation honors military heroes on Veterans Day, AOL.com is giving veterans a chance to share their stories and experiences.
Matt Zeller is the incredible co-founder of No One Left Behind, an organization dedicated to resettling translators who served alongside Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. Zeller is also a strong supporter of #DayForTheBrave.
#DayForTheBrave is the first national veteran-focused day of giving, a day to show U.S. troops and veterans appreciation and respect. Around 200 veterans organizations -- including the Wounded Warrior Project, the USO and the Fisher House -- will be working together to raise more than $1 million in just 24 hours for troops. You too can get involved here.
AOL.com: Where and when did you serve, and in what position?
Matt Zeller: I served as an embedded combat adviser to the Afghan Army and Police in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2008. I was our unit's intelligence officer as well as an adviser to the Afghan forces stationed with us. I trained them to one day be able to replace coalition forces.
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AOL.com: Why did you join the U.S. military?
Matt Zeller: I joined because of 9/11. My family has been in America for nine generations. I've had a relative fight in just about every war going back to the War for Independence. In my closet hangs my grandfather's World War II Navy uniform, my great-grandfather's World War I Army uniform and my great-great-great-great-grandfather's Union Army uniform that he wore at Gettysburg during the Civil War. Service wasn't just a civic duty, it was a familial obligation. 9/11 was my generation's Pearl Harbor and I felt bound to do what so many in my family had done before me -- answer my country's call to service during its hour of need.
AOL.com: What does it mean to you to have served in the U.S. military?
Matt Zeller: Serving means more than I can adequately put into words. It means I can look at my daughter and know I did what I was supposed to do as a citizen to ensure her freedom and liberty. It will be the highest honor of my life.
AOL.com: What did you gain from serving in the military and what did you have to give up?
Matt Zeller: I gained leadership, a profound understanding of what it means to be loyal and honorable, and a great deal about how the real world works. I learned just how blessed Americans are compared to so many others in the world. I gave up a "normal" early adulthood. While my friends from college made fortunes on Wall Street or procured power in government, I was training or deployed on the front lines, my "life" seemingly on hold until we completed our mission and made America safe.
AOL.com: What do most people forget or overlook about the men and women serving in the military?
Matt Zeller: I learned just how diverse we all are. There is no stereotypical solider, sailor, airman or marine. What we all have in common is a profound love for our country and a desire to serve it and its people.
AOL.com: What are you doing today and how did your service help you?
Matt Zeller: I am alive today because my Afghan translator, Janis, saved my life in a firefight in 2008. He killed two Taliban fighters who were about to kill me. The Taliban responded by placing Janis on the top of their publicized kill list. After a multi-year struggle, I secured visas for Janis and his family to immigrate to the United States. Together we founded, No One Left Behind, the only organization in America dedicated to resettling the translators who served with us in Afghanistan and Iraq. My service taught me the importance of keeping a promise. We promised all the translators who served with us that if they gave us a year of "honorable and valuable service" and found themselves in duress because of that service, so long as they could pass a national security background investigation, we would bring them and their immediate families to the U.S. Our foundation exists to ensure we keep America's promise. In our two years of existence, we've expanded operations into nine U.S. cities and are on pace to help resettle 1,000 people this year. More Veterans Day coverage from AOL.com:
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