Ahmad Zai Ahmadi was just a teenager when he ran into a group of U.S. Marines at a bazaar in his hometown of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2003.
"I just started saying, 'Hi' and 'How are you,' and they say, 'OK, you speak English. Do you want to be translating for us?' I say, 'Of course, yes!' " recalls Ahmadi, now 36.
He went on to work as an interpreter for U.S. forces for nearly a decade, a job that took him all over Afghanistan. He forged friendships with U.S. service members, including a number of high-ranking officers. His nickname was Rock.