BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — Brett Gustafson is a principal who loves his students.
“That’s all of us here in Bridgeport,” he said. “We care.”
He’s more than proving that as the new school year gets going in Bridgeport. As part of his preparations for the new school year at Curiale Elementary School, weeks ago, he sent an email to all of his students’ parents asking if they need anything from the school to be ready for day one.
One of the responses shocked him.
“I’m stuck here in Afghanistan, we may not be able to make it back to school on time,” recalled Brett. “Just wanted you to know.”
It was from a mother of two Curiale students — she has three children overall. Her name is Fatema. She’s from Afghanistan. She took her three children there long before the U.S. announced the withdrawal of troops because she wanted them to meet their grandparents. Worried about Fatema and her family, Brett took on the challenge of trying to get Fatema and her kids out of Afghanistan.
“I sent an email again saying ‘are you in trouble?'” Brett said. “‘Does the American consulate know you’re there?'”
Then he contacted the offices of both of Connecticut’s senators and Congressman Jim Hines. Brett also posted a picture of Fatema and the children on Facebook asking for prayers. He got more than that. Groups of people stepped forward to help get them out. Brett says one of those groups was “Afghan Allies” — veterans who are volunteering to help with the airlifts out of Afghanistan.
Brett says they set up an extraction team. He became the “go-to” guy for information since he was still in touch with the family, providing any information he could to those who started looking for them. Part of that info also included the picture he posted on Facebook, so the extraction crews could recognize them. He also found out where the family was in Afghanistan. Brett says he was asked to tell the family to stay in those same clothes that they were wearing in the picture so it would be easier for the extraction teams to recognize them.
But, in order for any team to truly help them, Brett says he was tasked to do something else.
“They needed documents and so the mother emailed me pictures of their passports so I can fill out the repatriation form that was needed in order for them to get on a flight,” he said.
But then something happened.
“The terrorist attack in Kabul occurred,” he said. “The extraction that was supposed to happen had to be delayed.”
That led to anxious days waiting for any news about Fatema. It got so bad for Brett, he told News 8 he used to carefully watch news coverage of the crisis looking in the background to see if he could see Fatema and her children.
Then, Brett got a message from a friend in contact with “Afghan Allies.”
“The men and women of the U.S. military got them into the airport, they’re safe,” he said.
The last Brett heard, they were at a U.S. airbase in Saudi Arabia waiting for a plane to bring them home.
Brett says all of the people involved in helping families like Fatema’s are heroes. He says his heart is heavy thinking, in particular, about our servicemen and women — especially the 13 killed who lost their lives to come to the aid of others.
“And what they did was beautiful and just,” said Brett, holding back tears.
Brett hopes to be reunited with Fatema and her family soon. Her husband, who did not make the trip to Afghanistan, is waiting, too. He used to be a translator — helping American troops in Afghanistan. Brett says because of his efforts there, he and his family are all considered American citizens.