DALLAS, Texas — In 2011, the Iraq War reached a bookend. The last of hundreds of thousands of troops started to withdraw from the area, and the mission in the region was seemingly over.
But for Dallas attorney Allen Vaught, his mission hadn't ended.
In fact, it was just getting started.
Vaught served in the war and was among the first troops to invade in 2003.
As a captain in the Army, his job was to help set up localized and U.S.-supported governments as Saddam Hussein's regime fell.
He needed help from Iraqi translators to do it, and for the past 15 years, he's worked tirelessly alongside other immigration attorneys to bring all the linguists he worked with who are still alive to America safely.
On Friday, Vaught will reunite on Texas soil with his last translator, who's been on the run for years.
The translator, who we'll only name "Sam" for his and his family's protection, has lived the past decade dodging militias, terrorist groups and anyone willing to execute someone in the Middle East who helped Americans.
"I've been working on this since 2011," Vaught said. "It's been hundreds of hours easily, the battles in Iraq with Sam, we had people shooting at us. This battle, it's been a battle of red tape."
Vaught hired five translators in total to help achieve his objectives laid out by the U.S. Army.
To this day, he feels guilt over it. Many translators who helped America are wanted men. And a number of them, if captured, were executed and tortured.
Vaught told WFAA that two of his translators had been executed since they were hired -- one was burned alive.
"They had prices put on their heads, and Sam is the last one alive," Vaught said.
In 2007 and 2008, Vaught was able to fight to get two of his translators home.
They are now U.S. citizens. But at the time, the process was more straightforward. The U.S. allowed them to come to America through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to reward linguists for their services.
But Sam stayed alongside U.S. troops until 2011, and once the war had wrapped up, Vaught said Sam had to apply to enter the U.S. as a refugee.
The last time Vaught had spoken to Sam? 2004.
Vaught and other soldiers were ambushed, and he broke his back in five places.
He received a medical discharge, but not before Sam drove miles through hostile territory to check on Vaught to make sure he was alright.
"I was dumbfounded," Vaught said. "He didn't have to do that."
"He ended up sending me a Facebook message, and we reconnected. Unfortunately, the refugee process is pretty complicated, and it's been that way for many years."
Vaught was able to get Sam approved to come to the U.S., but things hit a snag after President Donald Trump was elected. His executive orders laid out travel bans for citizens of certain Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq.
Vaught filed suit against the bans and ended up winning, but within two weeks of a fly-out date, COVID-19 hit the world.
"Boom. Covid happens, and everything shuts down," Vaught said. "It added another delay."
Vaught said Sam was stuck in Egypt for the last two years until he could travel to the United States.
He finally got here a few weeks ago and has been staying in California, waiting to come to Texas, where Vaught will be his sponsor.
His flight arrives at Dallas Love Field on Friday. Vaught says he will stay with him until he can get Sam a job and a new life.
"We haven't seen each other since he came to check on me in 2004, very excited to see him," Vaught said.
For Vaught, it will be the end of the mission he began so long ago.
"I really feel like the war will be over for me at that point," Vaught said. "I've always felt guilty about what happened to the translators we hired because I was the one who hired them."
"I owe Sam. I probably wouldn't be giving this effort for anyone else."
If you'd like to help Sam--a GoFundMe has been created to help him get situated in America.