JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, NJ – Since August 2021, Afghan evacuees have arrived at several U.S. military installations across the country. These secure locations are an entry point for Afghans and their families who have supported the US government.
As of the end of August, more than 50 members of the State of Evergreen have been supporting Task Force Liberty and working side-by-side in Liberty Village with their active-duty counterparts and Air Force Reservists, as well as with other departments of Defense, Department of the Fatherland. Security, State Department, JBMDL staff and dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), providing essential support to Afghan guests.
Members of the National Guard from nearly every state and territory assist an estimated 50,000 Afghan guests by providing transportation, temporary accommodation, culturally appropriate food, medical examinations, religious accommodation and general support to Operation Allies Welcome.
“We knew we were going into an unprecedented situation,” said Washington State Air National Guard command chief, US Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Marvin Boyd. “As guards we have been responding to one challenge after another for almost two years and once again we have had people who were keen to help short term and volunteer. “
As temporary housing and medical facilities were quickly constructed and expanded, the need for vaccinations and urgent medical issues were quickly addressed. Boyd (a former Marine Corps member) worked with US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nikki Pritchard, Public Health Officer for Task Force Liberty, deployed from US Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Hospital, Twentynine Palms, Calif., To open Liberty Village Medical Center which was fully functional on September 10.
Task Force Liberty is one of the largest military installations to support the Afghans. Prichard said the sheer amount of people and logistics associated with the medical needs of those arriving from Afghanistan is a challenge but also an opportunity to help our Afghan guests.
“With everyone coming from areas where they may not have received proper medical care, we are focusing on the need for vaccination,” she said.
Like many Americas, Afghans arriving here are vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, COVID-19 and many more.
“We also want to address early polio vaccination, but at the moment the focus is on measles because it is very contagious,” Prichard said. “The CDC has been here all the time with representatives, which has been invaluable to our expanding staff and has brought experiences. It was fantastic to work with them.
As people pushed their way through the medical facility, U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Megan Busellato, assigned to 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron (ASTS), Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was one of the many health professionals to provide vaccines.
“Everything that we trained and did with the COVID response kind of gave us all a sense of preparation for such a monumental time,” she said.
Prichard also reflected on progress as more and more evacuees arrive.
“Seeing the interactions between staff and our customers really puts things in perspective and gives you that little extra motivation to get to the end of the day, wake up and start over the next day.
For Afghans, the full spectrum of operational support encompasses almost every aspect of daily life. Meals, medical appointments, distribution of clothing, recreation, and living in a temporary community are the many things provided to transition and start their new life here in the United States.
Several former Army restaurants have also reopened and serve meals 24/7 for Liberty Village patrons. On the field outside, children can be seen playing, often with airmen, soldiers, sailors, guards, marines and other volunteers.
For nearly two decades, Sam Delio worked both as a building maintenance technician and later as a housing manager for the Common Reception Center. Now he’s making sure the buildings are fully functional with linens, cots, and keys.
With a constant flow of Afghans filling open buildings from the start, building occupancy for Liberty Village One and Liberty Village Two quickly reached over 95% of capacity.
“I spent over 10 years doing the day-to-day maintenance of these buildings before dealing with the flow of soldiers training here,” said Delio. “Everything that the staff is doing at the moment with the accommodation and the follow-up of our [Afghan] the guests are phenomenal.
Each of the three TF Liberty villages has a designated mayor cell where Afghan guests can forward any questions, complaints, requests and urgent needs as well as report any crimes. Adjusting to life both outside of Afghanistan and now in transition can be both liberating and stressful. This is where service members can help directly with lost bags, minor medical issues, or help find resources at various locations in Liberty Village. At TF Liberty, each of the three villages has a designated mayor cell.
Some Afghan evacuees arrived with few items and others with only one change of clothing. As the donated items arrived, clothing distribution centers were quickly set up to disperse the items. A team of airmen deployed from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina helped hundreds of people every day collect socks, underwear and outerwear.
At the head of this team is the US Air Force sergeant major. Joshua Meadows, an aircraft structural maintainer with 4th Medical Group, kept pace with encouragement and an effective organized distribution plan.
“We’re about 10-12 of us here, and they’re doing exceptionally well,” Meadows said.
“The relationship I have built with our Afghan guests, volunteers and interpreters has been one of the best parts of my job so far,” Meadows said. “I don’t think it’s really defined yet – the magnitude of what we’re doing because we’re so busy. We help so many people that everything our team does sometimes seems unreal. “
For many who volunteered and responded quickly, Washington Air National Guard Master Sgt. Christopher Davaz, assigned to 256th Intelligence Squadron, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, wanted to help in any way he could.
“At the time I signed up for this I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew something needed to be done,” he said. “That’s pretty much the inherent mission of the National Guard… to have a giant group of people ready to do whatever is necessary and do the right thing for those in need.”
With that perspective in mind, U.S. Air Force Reserve Chaplain Captain Conner Simms, assigned to the 934th Airlift Wing, Minnesota, offered a morning celebration of the 20th anniversary of September 11 to reflect on these themes. wider.
“So now this morning the sun rises again, which was only three weeks ago, was an empty field, and has now become a city within a city – as you build this city, and we continue to do this job for as long as the task demands of us, ”he told a group of military personnel, construction contractors and volunteers stopping to remember the ultimate sacrifice of others.