Story by Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire.
Senior Airman Ezequiel Acosta had seven hours’ notice when he volunteered to deploy to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, for Operations Allies Welcome. He deployed with fellow members of the 4th Munitions Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. He had no idea what he would be doing or who he’d be working with, but he rolled out of ammo country ready for anything.
“I am good with accountability because of my experience as an operations technician, so I ended up in charge of accountability for all Afghan guests in Village 2,” he said. “I worked on strictly tracking our residents and ensuring we knew if members were in the village or elsewhere for appointments. During this process, we came across a lot of people wanting to find out how to leave the base altogether.”
The U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) representatives and non-government organizations were working to develop a process for American citizens and legal permanent residents to leave the base and return to their homes in the U.S. Many who were not already in those categories were at least partially through the immigration application process before they evacuated Afghanistan, and they wanted to know the status of their case.
Acosta noticed some ways that processes could be improved based on his experience with people he had met while working at the Village 2 service desk. Working with the Department of State, he helped unify the process and create immigration out processing standard operating procedures for all villages on base to use.
The goal of immigration processes in Task Force Liberty, the name of the combined villages at JBMDL, is to help transition the nearly 9,000 Afghan guests to citizenship or resident status in a fifth of the time it normally takes.
“Everyone here wants the process to be expedited since there are so many people relying on us to get settled in America,” Acosta said. “They need help, and all of us are going to do our best to provide it.”
This part of the work in the mayor’s cell of the village is particularly meaningful to the senior airman. He is a naturalized citizen of the U.S. and knows many of the processes, paperwork and personal struggles these new immigrants will face.
“I really can relate to what they’re going through, especially leaving family behind,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to have to give them bad news about a lengthy timeframe to get off the base or not being able to help their family in Afghanistan, but I have to remain professional in those instances even though I can relate to their situations.”
Despite having to sometimes give negative answers to those expecting instant approval to leave the base, he has found a way to help over 40 American citizens and legal permanent residents leave the village in a month with more on the horizon set to leave before the end of September 2021.
“In ‘the bomb dump’ at my home station, we have a tight-knit community,” he said. “I find this situation and the personal way I relate to some of these members reflects my experiences at my squadron. We try to help people going through personal situations, but we always have to do that within the scope of what official policies allow.”
Balancing those responsibilities of answering directly to the residents of TFL while also working with the department representatives for immigration can be a challenge, but Acosta has found a way to support both.
When eligible families want to leave but have not coordinated properly, he works to arrange their checkout process and transportation to leave the base. He works with the joint operations command, the joint reception center, medical and immigration agencies like the U.S. Department of State, the United States Census Bureau and USCIS to accomplish this.
“It’s organized chaos each time since each case is different, but we are able to bring everything together in the end,” he said. “It’s going to be a snowball effect that will continue to gain traction and become more efficient as we correct our deficiencies and streamline our processes. I requested to extend beyond my first set of orders because I want to see this come to fruition and be a part of it for as long as possible.”
Story: This article by Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire, Operations Allies Welcome, was published by DVIDS on December 13, 2021. The Defense Visual Information Distribution Service published content is in the public domain.
Photo: Senior Airman Ezequiel Acosta, Task Force Liberty Village 2 service desk representative, works to help Afghan guests move into the U.S. by working in conjunction with federal agencies at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Sept. 13, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire)