Aussie soldier and Afghan interpreter’s shock reunion
Eight years after narrowly escaping death in Afghanistan, former Australian soldier Cory Neill, settling back into normal life, hired a team of painters last week to spruce up his Manly Vale house.
Upon arrival at his front door, one of the painters looked vaguely familiar.
"When he first turned up to my house I awkwardly stared at him and said I knew him. I assumed it was from when I was an apprentice before my time in the army," Mr Neill recalls.
Then it dawned on him. Incredibly, the man with the paintbrush and roller was the Army's Afghan interpreter Akbar Nasiri, who had been with him on the night in 2012 when he lost three mates in a brutal attack.
"My house in Manly Vale is a long way from Afghanistan and I hired a team of painters and Akbar was one of them," he said in amazement.
Like most Aussie Diggers Mr Neill relied heavily on interpreters during his six-month deployment as an infantryman, and Mr Nasiri was one of the best.
"Akbar was a wealth of knowledge having already been working with the Australian Army as an interpreter before we got there," Mr Neill said.
"He was with us the night of the 29th of August 2012, where we lost three Australian soldiers in this particular incident, and was a brave helpful figure throughout it."
He said friendships with interpreters ran deep because "as they go through what we go through".
Reunited unexpectedly last week, the pair swapped memories and took pictures with Mr Neill's son Kye, 6.
"My son was with me and it brought so much joy to be able to have my son shake this man's hand," Mr Neill said. "We shared photos and stories and my son was there to witness it all. Such a special and unbelievable moment that I will always remember."
For Mr Nasiri, life changed dramatically in 2013 when Australia ended its combat mission and withdrew its forces from Afghanistan.
The decision, he said, put many locally engaged employees at risk and that same year he fled his homeland and came to Australia by boat before the Australian Defence Force got him a permanent visa.
"My life was in danger because of the job I had with the Australian Army. My family are not with me, they are in Turkey as refugees," he said.
"I did not think after all these years I would meet again with my friend (Cory) after working with him in Afghanistan and helping the army for three years."
Mr Neill left the army in 2014 and, with the addition of 18-month-old, Kora, has now rebuilt his life.
With public Anzac Day commemorations cancelled, he said it would still be a time to honour not only the "brave soldiers" who fought in Gallipoli, but all those who "served and fought".
"My mind is always on the brave who sacrificed all and paid the ultimate sacrifice," he said.
Originally published as Aussie soldier and Afghan interpreter's shock reunion