In his book, Saving Aziz, Chad Robichaux (M.B.A. ’07) details the rescue missions that evacuated his long-time friend and interpreter, Aziz, and more than 17,000 Americans, Afghans, and allies who were left in the grip of the Taliban’s violent regime as the United States military withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021.
At age 17, Robichaux joined the Marine Corps and set out to become a Force Recon Marine, one of the U.S. Marine Corps’ special operation-capable forces that provides essential military intelligence and conducts clandestine operations. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2003 as part of an elite Joint Special Operations Command Task Force and was ultimately deployed eight times. Robichaux is now the president and founder of the nonprofit organization Mighty Oaks Foundation which has served more than 400,000 active duty military veterans and first responders from around the world through their faith-based resiliency and recovery programs.
He spoke to New York Tech News about his experience in Afghanistan, the rescue missions, and his new book, Saving Aziz.
Can you talk about your experience in Afghanistan and your relationship with Aziz?
During my eight deployments to Afghanistan, my special operations job required me to work alone with local nationals (Afghans) to blend in with the local populace to gather intelligence and set up clandestine logistical infrastructure to put my team on-target to capture and/or kill the highest levels of the Taliban regime in the region. Without Aziz, we would not have been nearly as successful as we were. He was my eyes and ears throughout Afghanistan and other countries and saved my life countless times. We were teammates. We were friends. I love Aziz and his family, and it was an honor to serve alongside such an incredible human being.
What prompted you to take on this rescue mission?
In April 2021, 14 years after my final deployment, the Biden administration announced that the United States military would end its 20-year occupation in Afghanistan and pull our military forces from the country by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Aziz saved my life countless times while I was in Afghanistan, and now it was my turn to repay that favor. Our immigration process had let him, his family, and many who had fought beside us for 20 years down by not fulfilling the contractual promise the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process offered our combat interpreters. I felt a burden that I believe God was putting in my heart to take action. I knew if I didn’t get my friend and his family out, they would be killed because of his service to America and things he did for me.
As I put together our initial team of 12 former special operations and intelligence veterans, our mission was to save Aziz and his family. But as God assembled this extraordinary team of volunteers who just wanted to do the right thing, we realized the need was much greater than just the Aziz family. So many things came together in a way I can only say was miraculous; not only did we have the most qualified team, but we were able to raise millions of dollars in days. We earned access through the Department of Defense to operate out of the Kabul Airport. And, through the royal family, we were given use of the United Arab Emirates Humanitarian Center and a C-17 military plane and pilots by the royal family. There were so many things that came together it is not possible to explain. So, we hit the ground running and rescued the Aziz family. The next 10 days or so were just a blur because we kept our heads down and kept pressing forward. If anyone stopped to rest, people died. By the time we looked up, we had rescued thousands of American citizens, green card holders, SIV interpreters and families, and vulnerable women, children, and Christians. When the United States military was forced to leave, we knew we had to stay, and we did. We had to.
What was the result?
As the last military plane left Kabul, we finally took a breath. We had rescued over 12,000 people in those initial 10 days and had airlifted them from Kabul to the United Arab Emirates. It was remarkable. After that, we continued our evacuations, but at a much slower rate since we no longer controlled the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. We continued to evacuate an average of 50 people per day over the next few weeks. More than 17,000 were rescued—the largest number for any rescue group.
Were you ever in any danger?
While on the ground, it was obviously very dangerous, but I never felt in danger. I leaned on the four pillars of resiliency—mind, body, spirit, social—that I, and Mighty Oaks, have taught for the past 12 years. Having four strong pillars allowed me to do what was needed without any worries. Aside from a lack of sleep. However, the same cannot be said for my 10-day reconnaissance mission following the initial evacuation.
I, along with a fellow Force Recon Marine, conducted a 10-day reconnaissance mission along the Afghanistan border to identify evacuation routes overland for those who couldn’t fly out. This mission, which took us along 90 miles of the border along the Afghan-Tajikistan border, was very trying and dangerous. We operated at night, swimming into Afghanistan and evading Russian, Chinese, and Taliban forces. In the end, we successfully identified and plotted several escape routes for trapped civilians. We were the first on the ground, providing real-time intelligence for government and non-government agencies, which made way for additional evacuations.
While we may have faced immediate danger, I never second-guessed the calling to save people. I vividly remember reciting Psalms 23 when I was going through a rough moment and, as it states, “He refreshed my soul and allowed me to press on.”
What do you want people to know about your book?
Saving Aziz gives a behind-the-scenes view of the evacuation efforts that saved thousands from the Taliban during a historic humanitarian crisis. In this gripping and eye-opening account, I describe my experiences with the deep, rich, and complex culture of Afghanistan and its people; my direct interactions with those in the Taliban; my perspective on the 20-year war that took place under four United States presidents; and my inside view of what happened in Afghanistan during the United States’ hasty withdrawal. This is not a political book; its purpose is to merely get the story out to allow the people to draw their own conclusions.
This interview has been edited and condensed.