ARLINGTON, Va. - National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from throughout the nation continue to support Operation Allies Welcome, assisting Afghans as they safely resettle in the United States.
Operation Allies Welcome is a Department of Homeland Security-led effort backed by the Departments of State and Defense. It is an extension of Operation Allies Refuge, the evacuation from Afghanistan of more than 180,000 U.S. citizens and Afghan allies, many by Air National Guard airlift crews.
Guard members from nearly every state and territory are involved in Operation Allies Welcome. They assist with initial processing, transportation, medical care, translation services, security and general logistical support for as many as 65,000 special immigrant visa applicants, their families and other Afghan personnel temporarily housed at eight military installations nationwide.
Those locations include Fort Lee, Fort Pickett and Marine Corps Base Quantico, all in Virginia; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Camp Atterbury, Indiana; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
"At the time I signed up for this, I didn't know what to expect, but I knew something had to be done," said Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Davas of the Washington Air National Guards 256th Intelligence Squadron. "That's pretty much the inherent mission of the National Guard … have a giant group of people prepared to do whatever's required and do the right thing for people in need."
Soldiers and Airmen have helped provide recreational activities, religious accommodations, and language and educational classes for the guests.
For many, the opportunity to serve in such a capacity is personal.
"We have so many people who have been connected to Afghanistan the last 20 years and want to help in any way they can," said Air Force Lt. Col. Lisa Weaver, with the Air Component Coordination Element of the Washington National Guard. "It's an opportunity to make a difference in a situation where it really is necessary: working directly with displaced nationals, helping them settle, and keeping them safe."
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chariann Agee, an aviation resource manager with the Operational Support Squadron, 115th Fighter Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, can relate to what many Afghans experienced. A child of refugees who fled the first Liberian civil war in search of asylum in the United States, she was evacuated to the country in the 1990s.
"I know what it's like to reach safety right here in this country," said Agee, who volunteered to help in an administrative capacity at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wisconsin, for the mission at nearby Fort McCoy. "My part is small, but I am paying it forward and will continue to do so in any way I can."
Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Bauer, vice commander of Volk Field, said the performance by the team in Wisconsin has been a phenomenal total force effort.
"With such a diverse force, we have overcome all challenges thrown our way," he said. "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."
According to the DHS, once Afghan guests have completed all the processing steps, the department will work closely with non-governmental organizations and international organization partners to assign and transfer them to their final destinations.