HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Most Americans have heard that the United States is taking at-risk Afghan evacuees out of Afghanistan and bringing them to multiple safe haven military bases to process and integrate them into American society.
Holloman AFB was one of the last bases to be tasked by the Department of Defense to create a space to house incoming evacuees. Task Force-Holloman, initially led by the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, took the task and ran with it.
In less than ten days, they built tents for more than 800 Airmen to live in, and assisted in building a living area for up to 5,000 Afghans.
Despite the fast-paced work environment, Airmen still have the same drive that they had on day one, and most of it can be traced back to seeing the faces of the Afghans as they arrive and live in the newly named, Aman Omid Village.
“The speed and efficiency with which my fellow Airmen converged upon Holloman AFB and literally built and ran a small city is nothing short of incredible,” said Lt. Col. Brook Sweitzer, TF-H deputy chief of staff, deployed from Battle Creek Air National Guard Michigan. “Many of my fellow Airmen who volunteered for this resettlement evacuation have spent time in Afghanistan and feel a profound desire to help with this unexpected sequel of our earlier work.”
A call comes in, there is an aircraft inbound filled with Afghan evacuees on board. The 133rd Contingency Response Element deployed from the Channel Islands, California, is already on standby near the flight line ready to marshal in the aircraft.
The aircraft parks and Airmen walk out to the plane to help the Afghans by carrying any extra luggage and at times, carrying children.
“These people have been on a plane for probably days, going from place to place with no end in sight. They’re tired, and they’ve been through a lot,” said 1st Lt. Whitney Longenecker, TF-H initial processing center officer in charge, deployed from Seymour Johnson AFB. “It’s the least we can do for them.”
After exiting the plane, most make their way to a large, air-conditioned tent. While they walk across the hot tarmac, military members line the way, clapping, cheering and welcoming them. Most of the children, and some of the adults, wave back and smile large, toothy grins.
In the tent, the evacuees get a chance to sit and listen as interpreters and translators relay information.
Next, evacuees are led into the initial processing center where Airmen work with more translators and interpreters to get the evacuees’ information, and issue them a wristband with their data on it.
The wristband helps maintain accountability of the evacuees as they complete their Department of Homeland Security and Department of State requirements.
After receiving wristbands, they move into a large room, where they receive food, water and anything else needed. Some mothers receive baby formula, while others are offered a private room to nurse their infants.
A few Airmen wait in the room with things like a foam football or a soccer ball, to start playing with the children. The children’s loud, high-pitched laughs echo and are heard outside the room.
The waiting room fills until there are enough evacuees to fill a coach bus. They board the bus and make their way to Aman Omid Village, which translates to Peace and Hope Village.
As they depart the bus, more Airmen clap and welcome them, and the evacuees are handed bags filled blankets, pillows, toothpaste and other essential items. The families are assigned rooms in the village, and are led to the place that becomes their temporary home until their immigration status is officially changed.
At the village, Airmen interact and play with children. Soon, a full pick-up soccer game was on, and even Afghan adults join in on the fun. To the side, others were playing volleyball and catch. Watching from afar, a few adults were looking at their children playing, and with a smile across their face they wiped tears from their eyes.
“They know that they’re finally safe, that they’re here and away from any Taliban members,” said Senior Airman Stephen Borin, TF-H protocol member, deployed from Fairchild AFB, Washington. “Knowing that there’s this many people welcoming them with open arms, and that all of the Airmen here want to take care of them -- it’s heartwarming not just to them, but to us too.”
The village has all the basic necessities including private restrooms, air-conditioned living quarters, a dining facility, washrooms, a medical center and more.
“I am so happy my family and me are here and safe,” said an anonymous Afghan evacuee. “I never expected such a big welcoming. Thank you all for everything you do.”