MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — It seems like just yesterday Mohammed al Hamza was excitedly greeting a small band of American Special Forces after they entered his country in the dead of night some 16 years ago.
"I remember seeing these weird men in camouflage riding horses," said Hamza. "I was really intrigued. And they seemed friendly, so I was excited to see them and say hello."
Now a senior citizen in his late 20s, Hamza now excitedly shoots at similar bands of American soldiers that he had looked on fondly as a young boy.
"That's not to say I don't shoot at other soldiers in my area," said Hamza. "I like to greet all guests within about 10 miles or so of my village, whether they be American, German, or British."
In his home, Hamza even keeps a large Gatorade bottle filled with urine that a drunken operator lobbed at his head many years ago as a memento.
Although it's been nearly two decades since the moment a young Hamza spotted his American liberators, Hamza still gets that same rush every time he sees people who aren't from Afghanistan.
"Especially Americans. I love seeing Americans on patrol," Hamza said.
Within the last few years, Hamza was somewhat distraught by the lack of American forces in the region, which topped out at roughly 100,000 in 2011. Now, he said, with a surge set to take place under President Trump, Hamza is once again excited to see old friends.
"We basically grew up together," Hamza said, noting that like himself, many American soldiers were too young or not even born yet when the 9/11 attacks occurred.
Donnell contributed reporting.