By DoD News
By Patrick Buffett*
Task Force Eagle at Fort Lee, Virginia, is supporting the mission of relocating up to 3,500 Afghan special immigrant applicants in support of the State Department and as directed by the Defense Department.
Army Col. Karin L. Watson, Fort Lee’s garrison commander, said the installation received notification of its role in support of Operation Allies Refuge on July 15. The operation supports the relocation of interested and eligible Afghans and families who have supported the U.S. government and are close to finishing the process of applying for special immigrant visas, according to the State Department.
The task force is charged with providing temporary housing, medical screening, food, religious support and other necessities to Afghan special immigrant applicants.
The first group of about 200 Afghans arrived at Fort Lee on July 30. They are finishing the remaining steps on their path to becoming permanent U.S. residents.
“Fort Lee remains eager and committed to doing all it can to support the U.S. government’s efforts to help those who have helped us for many years,” said Army Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee.
“We were able to accelerate the planning and preparation for this mission thanks to the responsiveness of the entire military enterprise,” Simerly said. “We are thankful for their support and are proud to support this valuable mission.”
Watson acknowledged the “all-hands effort” of her staff and installation tenant agencies. She said the installation has received tremendous support from the privatized Army lodging facility; Logistic Readiness Center – Lee; the Army Mission and Installation Contracting Command; the Army & Air Force Exchange Service; and others.
“While most of these individuals will only be at Fort Lee for a short time, we want that experience to be welcoming and respectful,” Watson said. The base has taken into consideration their religious and cultural needs, for example the provision of halal food permitted by Islam.”
The commanders further emphasized that Operation Allies Refuge will not interrupt the installation’s primary training mission. Fort Lee is the home of the Army’s ordnance, quartermaster and transportation schools and the Army Logistics University.
“Our commanders and staff are working hard to ensure there is minimal disruption to the people who live and work on Fort Lee, and they’re closely coordinating our actions with the surrounding communities,” Simerly said. He also noted that those within the community have expressed strong support for the mission.
The Operation Allies Refuge effort is led by the State Department, which has asked the DOD for support. Within the DOD, U.S. Northern Command is the lead on providing that support.
“U.S. Northern Command, in support of [the] Department of State, is honored to lead the Department of Defense efforts to this critical mission,” said Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, Northcom commander. “In all we do, we will demonstrate our commitment to our Afghan partners and their families who have sacrificed in pursuit of mutual security objectives.”
Fort Lee was chosen by the DOD to participate in Operation Allies Refuge because it meets the State and Defense Department criteria for a secure location with the capacity to house and provide essential services to the Afghan special immigrant applicants.
Fort Lee’s proximity on the East Coast allows shorter travel from overseas locations and has the capability for quick utilization as a temporary host installation for Afghan special immigrant applicants.
*Patrick Buffett, Fort Lee Public Affairs