There is trouble outside Camp Phoenix. The American base on the dusty outskirts of Kabul had put out the word that it needed English translators...

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KABUL, Afghanistan — There is trouble outside Camp Phoenix. The American base on the dusty outskirts of Kabul had put out the word that it needed English translators. The problem is, the Americans have now hired their translator, and a crowd of Afghan job hunters at the camp gate is getting unruly.

The U.S. soldiers are nervous. One yells obscenities and waves his gun. The crowd cowers but doesn’t budge. Then, another soldier steps forward, armed only with a thick wooden staff, wrapped in peeling red tape.

The name tag on his broad chest reads “Rambo,” and though he wears U.S. Army fatigues, he speaks the local language Dari perfectly, ordering the crowd to leave. It reluctantly disperses.

This is a normal day for Rambo, an Afghan who has stood guard here for more than four years, pledging his life to the American soldiers that ousted the Taliban government. But on Jan. 16, Rambo’s gatekeeping made him a bona fide hero.

On that day, Rambo wrenched open the driver’s-side door of a moving car and wrestled a suicide bomber into submission before he could detonate his explosives. President Bush lauded him, and slightly exaggerated accounts of his feat circled through cyberspace, pleading for America to offer him citizenship or at least a medal.

To Rambo, whose name has been withheld for his protection, what happened that day was a matter of pride.

“I made a promise to every American soldier,” he says in grave tones. “Even if there is only one American soldier, I will be here to protect him.”

At every corner of Camp Phoenix, Rambo stops to salute American officers. Soldiers heading out on patrol call out his name as if he were a fraternity brother.

Amid Camp Phoenix’s earth-filled blast walls and bristling guard towers, designed to protect soldiers from the continuing violence, Rambo speaks about his well-worn red stick and its many uses in crowd control. When the driver of an off-white sedan did not brake as he approached the gate, Rambo sensed danger. He ran to the door, flung it open, and saw two buttons by the gearshift, each with a wire running to a gas tank that filled the entire back seat.

Before the terrorist could reach the buttons, Rambo seized his hands, and a soldier arrived to help. In an instant, it was over.

In his dark and low-ceilinged room — a nestlike clutter of boxes and badges and potato-chip bags — Rambo displays a letter from the former commander of NATO. There is a framed commendation that bears the U.S. and Afghan flags, as well as a jumble of military coins given for his service.

In another corner, he uncovers a pile of letters from American soldiers, their wives, and their mothers — one with a lipstick-stained kiss of gratitude. The thanks he has always received for his service makes his monastic existence worthwhile. Even before Jan. 16, he stayed here from before dawn until after dusk. Now, he lives on the base full time. In fact, he has not been home for three months.

He doesn’t heed the Afghans who roll down their windows and shout obscenities at him as they pass. “I don’t care what they say,” he says. “I will protect my friends.”

Yes, he says, the Americans are here to help hold his country together as it attempts to heal after three decades of misrule and civil war. But more than that, he loves Americans because they have treated him with respect.

They have given him this uniform, which is frayed at the cuffs from constant use. They have created a “Rambo fund” to help him get a TV, and have helped two of his sons get jobs. On his shoulder he proudly wears the patches of every unit that has come through Camp Phoenix.

Rambo’s wife and one of his children were killed when a rocket crashed into their home during the Taliban rule. It was not intentional, he says, but it was indicative of the lives ruined by the Taliban.

As a member of the army during a former government, he felt unsafe and eventually fled to Pakistan for refuge.

The fall of the Taliban in 2001 brought him back to Kabul, where he resumed an old job as a truck driver and security guard at a transportation company. When Camp Phoenix commandeered the building used by the transportation company in 2003, Rambo stayed on as a security guard for the new installation. He has been here ever since.