FORT LEE, Virginia – “When I was assigned to support Task Force Eagle and Operation Allies Refuge (now Operation Allies Welcome), I was really excited,” recalled Lt. Col. Latorris Williams, officer in charge of the life support zone at Fort Lee, where Afghan evacuees complete visa processing prior to relocation to the United States
“What an honor to be part of this story and make a difference in the lives of people who have sacrificed so much and helped us achieve so much,” he added. Williams has been in charge of LSA since late July, when the first Afghans arrived here.
The Department of Defense – through the U.S. Northern Command and in support of the Department of Homeland Security – provides transportation, temporary accommodation, medical screening, and general support to the OAW. Fort Lee is one of several military installations across the country providing logistical support. According to a Stars and Stripes article published on October 25, nearly 6,700 evacuated Afghans have resettled across the United States and about 53,150 remain at military bases in the United States.
The arrival of immigrant visa applicants requires 24-hour support, according to Williams. He said the determination of the LSA team and DHS representatives to do their best allows them to meet demand, while maintaining high morale.
“The team took the mission to heart – they want to make sure that when the Afghans arrive at Fort Lee, we provide a sustained level of high quality support,” said Williams. “We want to make sure they feel welcome. It’s not easy for them to get up and move their families around like that. So we do everything we can to make them feel comfortable.
The process of making them feel comfortable begins as soon as they arrive. Immediately after disembarking from the buses they arrive in, they receive a welcome briefing from DOD and DHS staff.
“They get a badge and their room keys,” Williams said. “We help them with their luggage and depending on what time they arrive, they can start the medical process to get their visa on the same day. It’s a really fluid system.
Visa applicants have access to three halal meals per day in a cafeteria located near their accommodation (read the related article at www.army.mil/article/249189). There is a “take out” station with 24 hour access.
Entertainment such as TV and sports equipment are also available. The army.mil website and Fort Lee Facebook page highlighted a host of recreational and educational opportunities such as a youth football jamboree, a museum tour and cultural classes for Afghan women, and a kabab barbecue.
“They are very grateful,” said Williams. “They are just shocked to see what we present to them. All of the reviews we have received on the accommodation and the food have been very positive which is great. They also told us that they felt like they were part of a new family, and that is the goal.
He recalled cases of elderly Afghans approaching him after the welcome briefing and placing their hand over their hearts in gratitude. The family members in the background would do the same. The gesture is one of the sincerest forms of respect and sincerity in Afghan culture.
The majority of Afghan special immigrants stay at Fort Lee for several days. Despite the short delay, the staff at DOD strive to make a lasting impression.
“I hope they leave here knowing that we are sincere; that we keep our word, ”said Williams. “What they did for us they didn’t have to do. So we pay them back by doing this.
|Date posted:||26.10.2021 10:11|
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