Our American family has grown!
For security reasons, there is no information in this article that has not been cleared through The Department of State. I will only be sharing a portion of my involvement in this operation and have changed names in this article to protect all parties involved.
The last few weeks of my career have possibly been the most rewarding, confusing and frustrating. I had the unique opportunity to be contracted to assist in the evacuation of nearly 50,000 Afghanistan refugees (the numbers change depending on your source) after the fall of the Kabul airport. As I arrived in Washington D.C., I had no idea what an emotional and mental roller-coaster ride the operation would be. Surrounded by thousands of Afghan refugees, I was honored to work with some of the finest people I have met as hundreds of State Department, DOD, USAID, TSA and private contractors all worked together to support one mission. It was a constant stream of needs and every moment we struggled to find solutions to each and every cry for assistance. Walking through pallets of pillows, blankets and supplies, it was difficult to not stop and interact with these people who had so recently been displaced and had experienced their own personal tragedies. Children ran amok throughout the building, excited to be fed, clean and free. Mountains of crayons were piled amongst the “play area” where pick-up soccer games were played, hula hoops spun and children crawled around chasing small toys. It was an area of happiness and I stopped often to watch. The only negative side to the loud laughter and shrill screams of play was that it usually occurred between 11 am and 4 pm Kabul time… the middle of the night for those of us that fought sleep to stay on a new schedule. In the days since the U.S. military left Afghanistan in what ended up being a hasty and chaotic exit to a 20-year war, thousands of Afghans were being airlifted to processing centers like this one in the United States. While it was only the first stop on a long journey for these people, it was the most important because it was the beginning of a new life without fear of retaliation, severe punishment or death. After landing at Dulles International Airport, the refugees were given a coronavirus test. If they test negative, they were brought in and processed. The testing was relatively accurate, although as the numbers grew, the numbers of COVID positive also grew creating a new challenge that was overcome by opening a temporary treatment center/hospital nearby. New relationships were cut short every few days as the refugees were re-routed from us to one of eight military bases around the country. It was sad to see many of them go as we had made connections with individuals and families that we may never see again. Like I said, A roller-coaster of emotions. Perhaps the most amazing piece of this operation was the lack of politics on the ground level. Democrats and Republicans looked alike as we all worked together to solve problems and to ease the pain and suffering of people we had never met. It was a hopeful mission and reminiscent of 20 years ago when we were all just Americans. Hadee came from the airport in Kabul with nothing but a small zip-loc bag of belongings, but despite the loss of everything in his life, the 23 year old continually made the rounds offering help to others, picking up after the children and asisting the elderly. Kaaliya had a grandmother who was very ill and never left her side. Smiling and always cheerful, Kaaliya would greet everyone as they walked by; a true ray of hope and sunshine in a building with no windows. Zalmay came from Kabul via Mazar-i-Sharif with his large family in tow. Because of his connections and work with the U.S. Embassy, the older and distinguished gentleman had become a target of the new leadership in Afghanistan. His family quickly became mine and we spent some time together as health issues were addressed and a comfortable resting area could be found. The day they left was heart-breaking. My American family had grown. Our American grew. I think this is perhaps how we should see this situation. I have heard many opinions since returning that we should have never allowed these people to come into the United States. I have heard there are too many. I have heard that we did not vet them all properly. Everyone has a voice and an opinion, but what I think we should remember is that these are people that were in a situation they did not create themselves. Their children are like ours; precious and vulnerable. They are people with dreams, hopes and aspirations that looked to us in a time of great need. Did we pull out too quickly? Not soon enough? Was it all bungled? Has their been a dark side to the operation? Would a different administration handled things better? Did we accidently allow terrorists through our gates? All good questions that we should take a good look at getting the answers to but right now, at this moment, we need to separate the “what-ifs” and the “WTF’s?” from the “WHAT IS”. We have just been given the chance to be people to other people. We have just been given the chance to be neighbors. We have just been given the chance to minister. I feel honored and blessed to have been a part of this despite how history will remember it and I feel incredibly honored to have worked with so many that saw it the same way.