Two veterans, a decade, Tom Brady and a congressman: Unlikely Afghan escape leads to playoff reunion

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“It’s like a dream come true,” Noor said.

The game has been a sea change since the two last met – especially for Noor, who in the past year and a half has gone from being a Taliban target trying to get his family out of Afghanistan watching Brady and the Bucs rout the Eagles in a 31-15 playoff game. The reunion was as joyful as the path to get there was arduous.

Noor began his tenure as an American ally when, in 2007, he began interpreting for the American military in his home country of Afghanistan.

He obtained a green card under the Department of State’s Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and five years later, in 2016, he himself joined the US Army as an interpreter, this time donning the rank and uniform of the Army at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
He deployed to Afghanistan, translating for senior US officials in the southeastern part of the country for nearly a year, according to Task & Purpose, which initially profiled Noor.

Noor was honorably discharged in 2020 as a sergeant and settled in Houston. That year, as US plans to withdraw from his home country materialized, he made numerous attempts from the United States to evacuate his family from Afghanistan, and even returned to Kabul for two weeks to try to get them out in person. In the end, he couldn’t, and he had to return to Houston without his family.

Code word: ‘Tom Brady’

As some U.S. officials struggled to step up the pace of Afghan evacuations last August, U.S. Representatives Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, both veterans, flew into Kabul unannounced to “supervise the evacuation mission Americans and our allies”. said in a statement.
Moulton had heard of Noor in a Boston Globe report, and as he and Meijer faced heavy criticism from House leaders for their trip, Moulton added Noor’s family to the list of Afghans that they were trying to help evacuate. And a sea captain Moulton met on the trip helped solidify the plan.

In an internal memo shared with CNN by Moulton’s office, Neesha Suarez, the congresswoman’s director of constituent services, detailed the escape efforts. They focused on getting Noor’s family through a separate gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

The Navy captain texted Suarez saying, “I’m at the gate. I’ll send a guy by the name of ‘Omar.’ He’s going to ask who knows ‘Tom Brady.’ Ask Seth’s priority group to answer “Yes. Pass on those instructions and I’ll give you a time… when my guy comes your way.”

The escape came shortly after the suicide bombing at the airport’s Abbey Gate that killed 13 US service members and injured hundreds of Afghans in August 2021.
“He gave me the instructions,” Suarez wrote in his memo, “and when I read them I really laughed out loud. (Thousands of) miles away, a day after the devastating loss military, and with the emotional toll that the evacuation had taken, it was Tom Brady who was going to give me hope and potentially bring these people to safety.”

Noor was still in Houston when Suarez delivered some good news: that hope and potential had turned into action. The most vulnerable members of his family, including his mother, pregnant sister and 2-year-old niece, along with many other Afghans Moulton’s team had worked with, arrived safely at the airport and took a flight from Afghanistan.

A shootout, missed connections and reunions

After Noor’s family was evacuated, they joined him in Houston and Brady was told of the role he unknowingly played in getting the family out.

“Tom came across Said’s story earlier this season and personally wanted to invite him to a game,” Brady’s public relations office told CNN. Representatives for Brady alerted the Buccaneers organization, a team spokesperson said, and they all began working to get Noor to a game.

When Noor found out, he was excited. “I felt the kindness, you know? The caring in my heart from someone like him. I mean, he doesn’t even know me. … For someone who just got out of his way, who knows nothing about you and just wants you to be there.”

Noor told CNN he wanted to bring his sister, who was evacuated during the escape orchestrated by Moulton, but she was sick – so he instead contacted Morse, an Army friend he didn’t have. not seen for 10 years.

Army veteran Steve Morse is seen in this undated photo from Afghanistan.

“I worked with Steve as an interpreter in Afghanistan,” Noor said, “We were in (a) firefight together. I was like his right hand for the platoon.”

Morse agreed, confirming that the last time the two saw each other was after a fight in Afghanistan.

“We were both children,” he recalls. “I was 21. I think he was 20. And we’re still good friends.”

Morse said that in 2011 his platoon, a unit of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 181st Infantry Regiment, came under enemy fire in Khost Province – and Noor acted as an interpreter during and after the shooting.

“You could tell he believed in the mission,” he added. “It wasn’t just a job for him.”

Morse served for four years as an infantryman and was his platoon’s primary driver, also spending time with his units’ mortar section. A few weeks after the shooting, Noor was reassigned and the two men went their separate ways.

“We all loved him,” he said. “It sucked.”

How to help Afghan refugees

So when Noor asked if he wanted to go to the playoff game, Morse — a Massachusetts native and already a longtime Brady fan — said he was thrilled. “Oh my God, I was so excited.”

Morse’s mother, Cindy, a first-grade special education teacher in Massachusetts, had organized clothing, bedding, and other necessities for Noor’s family once they settled in Houston. She had invited Noor over for Christmas, Morse said, hoping to give her some semblance of family as he tried to evacuate his, but he couldn’t make the connection given the circumstances.

But now, with her family relocating to Houston, those missed relationships have made the couple’s reunion even more celebratory.

When Noor and Morse finally met in Tampa ahead of last Sunday’s game, Morse said: “It was like seeing a member of the family. I hadn’t seen him in over 10 years and he came to me. picked up at the airport and it felt like we did.don’t miss a beat.it felt like 10 years ago.

Tom Brady, Captain

Said Noor, left, and Steve Morse cheer on the Buccaneers from the famous pirate ship inside the stadium on Sunday January 16.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers spokesman Allen Barrett said Noor and Morse received “tickets to sit in the ‘Gronk Spike Zone’ – a section of tickets courtesy of the tight end Rob Gronkowski, plus some Buccaneers swag and a byline article from Rob.” The two veterans also cheered on the team from the famous pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium which overlooks the north side of the pitch. Noor will also receive a signed Brady jersey, Barrett said.
Although Noor’s case is unique in that not all Afghan interpreters or SIV recipients join the US military after their term, Moulton said the event also shows Afghanistan is always in the spotlight.

“Veterans don’t need to be reminded that this is important,” he said. “They continue to work every day to bring out those we’ve left behind. But it’s a good sign that icons like Tom Brady also recognize the importance of this commitment.”

Here's where veterans can turn for help with their Afghanistan angst

At Christmas, one of Noor’s friends gave him a shirt that read “Tom Freakin’ Brady”. That’s what he wore to the game. He was unable to meet the star quarterback, but said, “I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart for his warm invitation and hospitality.”

Before his family used Brady’s name as a code word for their escape, Noor said he didn’t know who the NFL quarterback was. But when he started sharing his story, it didn’t take him long to find out.

“I started googling it, I looked it up and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a big deal.'”

Moulton recalled that when the evacuees met the Navy Captain after walking through the airport gate, they even said, “Tom Brady! Tom Brady!” thinking that was the captain’s name.

“The thing is, his family never knew who Tom Brady was, and of course now they will never forget,” Moulton said.

CNN’s Drew Lawrence previously profiled the Noor family for Task & Purpose.

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