CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Is it possible to love a country before stepping on its soil? When asked that question, Booya Ghafoori answered unequivocally - yes. He's spent most of his life in Afghanistan, but is quick to say he's an American now.
Booya's once beautiful home country has been ravaged by an unending war and the Taliban's unrelenting grip. As a child, he watched Afghanistan change.
"I said, 'when I grow up, I will fight against them.' And that was my dream and my dream became true," he said.
Booya is a smart man. He speaks five languages, and the United States Army took notice. He was hired as an interpreter, or "terp," for the Special Forces Green Berets, which wasn't initially welcomed news for his new wife.
"I said I joined the military. I'm trying to fight against the enemy. My wife started crying. Like, you can't go because we just got married. I said if I don't go to help, then who's going to go? Who's going to bring peace in this country," he said.
In Afghanistan, working for the U.S. isn't the most popular of professions.
"Every day we were hearing that 'you're a traitor' and 'you're not helping your people. You're working with the Americans.'"
But with every Afghan who turned their back on him, Booya gained an American brother. He lights up when talking about the comradery that comes along with Special Forces.
"We were all like a family. Like a brotherhood. We were working shoulder to shoulder, fighting against the enemy," he said.
That brotherhood was pushed to its limits on April 6, 2008. A seemingly impossible mission in the Nuristan Province's Shok Valley to capture a high-level target.
The men were fighting insurgent forces for nearly seven hours.
"We're getting shot from every place because we're getting surrounded, 360 degrees, and we're receiving fire from everywhere," he said.
The team members suffered multiple injuries and Booya's best friend and fellow terp, CK, lost his life.
"I couldn't control myself. And I couldn't control my tears. I look up to the captain and I said we lost him," Booya said.
CK and Booya had together longed for a life in America.
"He died for this country and he had a dream to come to the United States. He couldn't make it," he said.
While CK never made it to the states, Booya did, along with his wife and four children. His Green Beret teammates helped get them get their Special Immigrant Visas in 2014.
The Purple Heart Booya earned after being injured while carrying wounded Americans to safety during the Shok Valley battle is proudly on display in his Charlotte living room. And yet, he says he has felt unwelcome at times in the country he fought to protect.
"We were at the grocery store. And I heard, they are Al-Qaeda. She's Al-Qaeda. They were telling my wife because she had a scarf on. And they said you all are Muslim and you are Al-Qaeda and you're the terrorist. And you're the one killing people," he said.
And then Booya says he and his family walked away. Because a few words from a stranger he risked his life for can't change a man's patriotism.
"They shouldn't judge the people by clothes. They shouldn't judge the people by color," Booya said. "Maybe they helped more than you. Maybe they did a lot of sacrifice for their country."