A temporary camp that was established at Fort Pickett, Virginia to house Afghan evacuees has closed. The location was one of eight camps on military installations across the country that were established to house, support, and process the almost 80,000 evacuees from the Kabul non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in August 2021.
Some of the evacuees were American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans who had Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) in their passports. There were many who had pending SIVs that had yet been approved by the Department of State. And there were many Afghans who were just lucky to get on an airplane leaving Kabul in the midst of the chaos during the airlift.
From Kabul, aboard U.S. military and sometimes privately chartered aircraft, the Afghans were flown to ‘lily pads’ in the Middle East. These destinations included Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Some Afghans remained at this location, were in-processed and screened, and then flown to military bases in the United States. Many Afghans, due to the capacity limits of the Middle East ‘lily pads’, were flown to military installations in Kosovo, Germany, Italy, or Spain.
Photo: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Karla Acosta, a field radio operator assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, picks clothes for an Afghan child at a clothing drive at Fort Pickett, Va., Nov. 6, 2021. Photo by Lance Cpl. Zachary Zephir.
As one of the eight military installations that had established a “safe haven” to receive Afghan evacuees, Fort Pickett hosted, housed, supported, and processed thousands of Afghans and assisted them in their onward journey to U.S. communities across the country. There are nine principle resettlement agencies with more than 290 local resettlement affiliates assisting in this resettlement process. While at Fort Pickett the Afghan evacuees had access to a range of services to include medical care, housing, food, resettlement services, clothing, and official documents. These documents include applications to apply for work authorization, usually received within a few weeks or months after being resettled.
Military personnel and government officials conducted a rigorous, multi-layered screening and vetting process that included biometric and biographic screenings. These were conducted by intelligence, counterterrorism, and law enforcement officials from various agencies. Personnel from the Departments of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, and other agencies provided screening services or support. Part of the medical screening and support provided at Fort Pickett included COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. Other vaccinations received were measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), varicella, and polio.
Photo: Afghan individuals prepare to be tested for COVID-19 after arriving to the U.S. during Operation Allies Welcome at Fort Pickett, Virginia, Oct. 6, 2021. This group of Afghan guests flew into Philadelphia International Airport and were transported by bus to Fort Pickett to begin their process of becoming U.S. citizens. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Eric Ramirez)
Of the eight temporary camps set up for Afghan evacuees, only two remain open. Fort McCoy, Wisconsin and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey still hold about 4,000 evacuees (as of Feb 9, 2022). These last two camps hosting Afghan evacuees are scheduled to close within weeks. The Department of State and Department of Defense plans to fully process any further Afghan evacuees at a ‘lily pad’ overseas – probably in Doha, Qatar. There are many volunteers working with private organizations that are part of the Afghan Evac community that are wondering just how effective this newest scheme on the part of the Department of State will be. Time will tell.
Photo: Fort Pickett, Va. (Jan. 04, 2022) Afghan evacuees await their turn to board a bus and depart for the airport. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Pearl)