NOVEMBER 19, 2021 – At roughly 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Nov. 16, the last of the Afghan evacuees temporarily housed at Fort Lee departed for their resettlement locations in the U.S., and the installation’s role in Operation Allies Welcome came to an end.
“We are proud to have had the privilege of supporting our brave Afghan allies and their families,” announced Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, commanding general of Task Force Eagle, the Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee. “This was a noble mission. We appreciate the outstanding support we received from our local community and from American citizens across the country to help the Afghan evacuees during their stay at Fort Lee as they began their new lives in the United States.”
The task force brought together to support OAW — which started out as Operation Allies Refuge when it began in late July — consisted of Department of Defense civilians; service members from the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Air Force; Department of State and Department of Homeland Security personnel; representatives of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development; and non-government organizations.
“The key to our success was the ability to integrate with our interagency and NGO colleagues,” said Army Lt. Col. Shelia Day, commander of the 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). “We developed a mutually supportive team to provide safety and security for our Afghan guests.”
The mission of the interagency task force was clear from the beginning — supporting vulnerable Afghans and their families while they completed immigration processing, applied for work authorization and underwent any necessary medical care allowing them to resettle in the United States.
Afghan evacuees received critical vaccinations to include measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), varicella, polio, COVID-19, and others — as a condition of their humanitarian parole. All OAW arrivals and departures included testing for COVID-19.
“I am very proud of our team, and there is no doubt how important our impact at Task Force Eagle has been to our Afghan guests,” said Air Force Col. Jennifer Baggott, commander of the 321st Air Expeditionary Group that provided medical support for the mission. “We worked long and rewarding days administering vaccinations, conducting lab testing and completing physical exams to ensure all guests were safe from communicable diseases and ensure medical clearance requirements were met.”
“The Department of Homeland Security extends a huge thanks and (its) appreciation to the DOD, DOS, Department of the Army and Fort Lee for their tireless work in supporting OAW,” said Chuck Burke, DHS federal coordinator (Travel Administration Agency). “It’s been a joint effort and really sets a standard for how intra-agency partners can and should be working together.”
The team of more than 300 service members was composed primarily of Soldiers and Airmen from various duty stations. In four months, they were able to assist the DHS resettlement process for over 3,000 Afghans.
“I know I don’t just speak for myself, but for others as well when I say the last four months with Task Force Eagle has been a life-changing experience that has caused us to grow both professionally and personally,” observed Todd Anderson, DOS lead on site. “We have stretched into our roles as leaders and public servants, in a combined joint effort to offer the kind of support and re-establishment for Afghan evacuees our country would be proud of.”
Afghan evacuees were temporarily housed at the IHG hotel on Fort Lee. Task Force Eagle also built eight temporary structures within its “life support area.” They included three dining facilities, two administrative and medical processing areas, two Morale Wellness and Recreational facilities, a donation area, and temporary medical tents used for such purposes as COVID-19 isolation and general health and welfare for those with non-life threatening issues.
“The beauty of this mission was being part of an effort made up of various organizations all working through daily challenges toward a common goal,” said Army Col. Joseph Greenlee, chief of staff for Task Force Eagle. “This was an incredibly unique and honorable mission that allowed us to directly take care of those that served along with us for many years along with their families, enabling their safe resettlement.”
The DOD, through U.S. Northern Command and in support of the DHS, continues to provide transportation, temporary housing, medical screening and general support at several other military bases across the country. From the onset of the mission, it was directed that at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees would need suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. The host installations have efficiently furnished essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan.
By Staff Sgt. Matthew Lumagui, 14th Public Affairs Detachment