KAISERSLAUTERN, RP, Germany –
As the U.S. Army’s 20-year mission in Afghanistan started to wind down, Operation Allies Refuge began. Operation Allies Refuge was designed to facilitate the quick, safe evacuation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan, but there is more work and assistance to be done.
Approximately 24,000 evacuees have landed at Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern, Germany, since the middle of July, according to Air Force officials. Rhine Ordnance Barracks or ROB, a U.S. Army installation just down the road from Ramstein, has a Deployment Processing Center currently being used to provide additional housing, medical and logistical support to the Department of State for Afghan special immigrants and their families.
Staff Sgt. Angela Morrow, a civil affairs specialist with the 361st Civil Affairs Brigade, is currently serving in the operation at ROB. She was contacted the night before reporting to assist in the whole-of government effort.
“I was excited for the opportunity to serve here,” said Morrow. “I’ve trained for this and feel ready for the challenge.”
As the only U.S. Army Reserve Command in Europe, the 7th Mission Support Command provides fast response and support with ready, trained units and Soldiers to operations in the European Theater. The 361st Civil Affairs Brigade, a subordinate unit of the 7th, provides linguists who work with non-governmental organizations and Soldiers with expertise in providing foreign humanitarian assistance.
“There is a family that was separated, a father and his two children ended up coming to ROB, and the mother and two children are over at Ramstein,” Morrow said. “Half of yesterday and the rest of today, I am going to work with Ramstein in getting them rejoined.”
The 361st stood up a civil military operations center at Ramstein, according to the 361st operations office. There, a cultural engagement team communicates and coordinates efforts with inter-agencies, to include integrating civil affairs’ personnel into the operation.
“Females in civil affairs are vital in a situation like this,” said Morrow. “Different cultures view gender roles differently than we do in the U.S, so when you have trained females on your team that can talk to their females, it sets us up for success.”
Identifying U.S. passport holders was a priority, as they had the opportunity to fly out the same night. Women and children reside in different buildings than the men, so Staff Sgt. Morrow went to work.
Morrow made rounds through female-only living quarters with Lina Zaman, a civilian interpreter and Afghan native, searching for U.S. citizens possibly unaware of their opportunity to get home quickly.
“I did find two girls with American nationality, so they had the papers and copies and everything,” said Zaman. “I explained the situation, they were interviewed and could fly.”
Zaman spoke about the mission being personal for her, as her family has been directly affected by the evacuation.
“I know how difficult it is,” Zaman said. “I still have family in Kabul.”
When she and her husband were contacted to assist as interpreters, they jumped at the opportunity, making an 8-hour drive from their home in Northern Germany.
Operation Allies Refuge is a joint effort, and the U.S. Army continues to perform their mission with professionalism and discipline.
“It takes time and coordination. We have to work with the organizations that can supply the resources [they] need,” Morrow said. “A lot of these people are concerned, because they don’t know how long they’re going to be here, they don’t know when they’re going to leave, so me not being able to give them a definitive answer is challenging.”
Challenges like these are what civil affairs teams are trained to handle through effective communication.
“We are really trying to build that relationship and build that connection with people,” explained Morrow. “I’m glad we are able help them, even if it is a stop on their way.”