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Utah vet and son wait two years for Afghan husband's visa

Oct. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Mary Ann Rollins and her 15-month-old son Ryhan.
Mary Ann Rollins and her 15-month-old son Ryhan. (Courtesy of Mary Ann Rollins)
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A a former member of the Utah National Guard who married her Afghan interpreter has created an online petition to help him come to the United States to meet their toddler son.

Mary Ann Rollins said their 15-month-old Ryhan has only ever seen his father on Skype and calls her laptop “Dada.” His father has never held him in his arms.

“He knows the sound of Skype connecting, so he points to the computer and says, ‘Dada,’ ” Rollins, 32, of Orem, Utah, told Army Times. “He puts his toys down and comes running to see the computer.”

The former staff sergeant said after waiting nearly two years for his visa to be approved, she started a petition on Change.org. It has since received more than 5,000 online signatures.

Although she was pleased Congress recently extended a visa program for Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who risked their lives to help western forces, that has not helped the couple’s case. He has applied for a spouse visa, which is different.

“I don’t think it’s whether he’s going to get here, it’s just how long it’s going to take, and that’s the most frustrating part, will it take a week or a year,” she said.

Rollins said she was a Guard military intelligence specialist when she deployed to Kunar in 2008 and met the interpreter. Army Times is not using his name at her request and for his safety.

Rollins said she and her future husband worked together closely and for long hours on a remote outpost. Eventually her professional admiration for him turned romantic, she said.

“I knew he was a really good guy, and we were in a situation where we were getting shot at regularly,” she said.

“I saw him volunteering on missions because he didn’t want the other guys to have to go — willing to put his life on the line for his buddies,” she said. “I had tons of respect for him.”

The relationship came to the attention of her superiors, and she received a temporary reprimand, she said.

The relationship did not cool after she returned home, however. As the two kept in touch by phone, email and Skype, their love grew.

“He wrote me poetry,” she said. “We could talk pretty much face-to-face with Skype.”

In October 2011 she returned to Afghanistan where the two held a wedding that was traditional but small, to avoid attracting attention, she said.

“I came back pregnant, and I was hoping he would come to the United States before our baby was born, that it wouldn’t take that long,” she said.

Two years later, they are still apart.

In February, Rollins’ husband interviewed with the State Department as part of his visa application. Since then, the visa has been listed in “administrative processing.”

Every time her petition receives an online signature, a letter is sent to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Yet neither her petition or an inquiry from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, appear to have spurred the visa process.

Rollins’ son and 7-year-old daughter from a previous marriage know her husband from the phone and the computer, and they can’t wait to meet him, she said.

“It’s frustrating, and there’s the uncertainty,” she said. “Having kids who can’t see their dad, it’s sad to see they’re growing up without a parent.”

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