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Trading a life in Vegas to speak for troops in Afghanistan

Some 250 US citizens of Afghan origin have made unlikely career changes to become military interpreters.

Torpekay Farhamg: An Afghan who came to the US at 14, she now interprets for US troops in Afghanistan.

Danna Harman

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It's a long way from Vegas.

For the past three years, Torpekay (Peggy) Farhamg, a longtime security guard and dealer at the strip's Imperial Palace, has been living behind concertina wire with American troops in Afghanistan. Ahmadullah Barak, who until recently was a used-car salesman at his cousin's dealership in Jamaica Heights is here, too, daydreaming about a slice of New York thin-slice pizza.

The two are among some 250 American citizens of Afghan origin who have made unlikely career changes and become Pashto or Dari military interpreters here – working as intermediaries between foreign troops and the locals they meet, collaborate with, and fight against – and making big bucks along the way.

Most easily admit it was the generous remuneration offered by the contracting agencies – up to $225,000 a year for those with the highest security clearances, they say – that convinced them to give up comfortable lives and join a war effort in the dusty land they long ago left behind. But there is a sprinkling of idealism as well.

"If they didn't pay well, who would even consider it?" asks Mr. Barak. "But I was excited, too. I thought the Americans could do good here."

The American "terps," as they are known, are paid far more than $800 a month typi- cally given to approximately 3,000 locally hired interpreters. But they also abide by a stricter set of rules.


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