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Only on AP: US veteran determined not to lose Afghan colleague

U.S. Army veteran Spencer Sullivan, right, and Abdulhaq Sodais, who served as a translator in Afghanistan, hug each other and cry during an interview in Bremen, Germany, Aug. 14, 2021. Sullivan is trying to help Sodais get asylum after he had to flee to Germany. (AP Photo / Peter Dejong)

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San Diego reporter Julie Watson spent months building a relationship with U.S. Army veteran Spencer Sullivan and his Afghan translator Abdulhaq Sodais, leading to exclusive video and photos of them meeting in Germany and a layered, all-formats story on Sullivan’s battle to keep America’s promise to bring his comrade to safety.

After his first translator another translator was killed by the Taliban while waiting for a U.S. visa, Sullivan felt the U.S. had betrayed its promise to help those who risked their lives interpreting for American troops. Sullivan was determined not to let Sodais, who used smugglers to get to Europe and feared being sent back to Afghanistan, suffer the same fate. The situation took on urgency as the Taliban seized control and the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan.

Sullivan flew from Virginia to Germany to help Sodais prepare for his Sept. 6 asylum hearing. At that point, the global footprint of AP paved the way for a good story to become great: Rome video journalist Andrea Rosa and Amsterdam photographer Peter Dejong met the pair in Germany and shot moving photos and video of the men together, with Sullivan trying to assure a terrified Sodais that he would be OK.

Watson wove that reporting into the text story, producing a detailed picture of the relationship between the two. The result was a rich, layered multiformat package that took people on a journey through one soldier’s attempt to make a small difference in the middle of a chaotic situation, all too aware of the price if he fails.

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