VOLK FIELD, Wis. – Wisconsin National Guard troops continue to welcome Afghan evacuees and Special Immigrant Visa holders arriving in the United States.
Airfield managers, refuelers, and security forces personnel from the Wisconsin National Guard's Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center have been working round-the-clock to receive several flights per day of evacuees bound for nearby Fort McCoy.
Upon arrival at Volk Field, individuals are greeted by a dual-status commander appointed from the Wisconsin National Guard, as well as Dari and Pashto signage created by Wisconsin National Guard linguists. In addition, designated relief organizations are using Wisconsin National Guard facilities to receive and stage supplies bound for Fort McCoy, and Guard COVID-19 testing teams are assisting at Fort McCoy.
The Wisconsin National Guard's efforts are in support of Operation Allies Welcome, a Department of Homeland Security-led effort supported by the Department of State, Department of Defense, and U.S. Northern Command to provide transportation, temporary housing, and general support for Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities nationwide.
"The performance by the Volk team has been phenomenal, and yet when I mention this to the troops here, they just shrug and give me the 'that's just what we do,'" said Lt. Col Thomas Bauer, the vice commander of Volk Field Air National Guard Base. "They come back in at night, weekends and downtime to handle any request for help.
"Additionally, we have integrated Active-Duty Air Force, Guard, Coast Guard, active duty, Guard, and Reserve Army, and civilians into the team," Bauer said. "With such a diverse force, we have overcome all challenges thrown our way. All of this to help save lives of our partners in Afghanistan who have literally left everything they had for a chance to start over in the U.S."
Military personnel from 28 states have helped receive thousands of personnel, with approximately 90 flights arriving at Volk Field en route to Fort McCoy. Running operations at Volk Field has been a total force effort involving multiple components of the U.S. military.
"Volk Field is home to some of the finest men and women in the nation, and it's no surprise to me that we were able to so seamlessly integrate Airmen – both Air National Guard and regular Air Force – from all over the country in such a short period of time," said Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Jackson, an air traffic manager and senior enlisted advisor for Volk Field's operations directorate. "It's a true testament to the professionalism and work ethic of our team and makes me proud to serve alongside members from the Total Force."
Jackson said he's grateful for the opportunity to assist Afghan families and will always remember the lives lost and sacrifices made in support of the mission.
"It really is an honor to be part of this mission, and it means a lot to somehow make a difference in the lives of so many people," Jackson said. "Even if it means putting in some long hours for a while, it's nothing compared to what these people have been through."
Tech. Sgt. Chariann Agee, an aviation resource manager from the Operational Support Squadron at Madison's 115th Fighter Wing, has a unique perspective on the mission. She was an evacuee to America and a child of refugees who fled the first Liberian civil war in search of asylum in the United States. She's helping now at Volk Field in an administrative capacity so airfield managers can focus on the mission.
"I know what it's like to reach safety right here in this country," Agee said. "My part is small, but I am paying it forward and will continue to do so in any way I can."
As Operation Allies Welcome began, many sections on post had to establish 24-hour operations to ensure the base could receive aircraft around the clock. Master Sgt. Michael Lyons, an airfield manager at Volk Field, integrated five additional personnel with the three full-time people his section has assigned typically.
"Being a part of this mission gives me a sense of overwhelming pride," he said. "Although not directly on the ground in Afghanistan, we are a crucial piece in the success of this mission. Seeing the refugees step off the plane brings me both joy and sadness. Joy because we were able to rescue them from a terrorist nation, and they can now live without fear, and sadness for those that were left behind. I am beyond proud to be such an integral part of this mission; it is something that I will remember forever."
Maj. Eric Dunford and Kristen Keehan contributed to this report.