FORT LEE, Va. – Air Force medical personnel from the 321st Air Expeditionary Group deployed July 26 to join the ranks of Task Force-Eagle, a joint organization consisting of service members, government civilians and contractors from across the Department of Defense.
The task force is providing interagency support to the Department of State-led Operation Allies Refuge – the effort to relocate qualified Afghan nationals eligible for Special Immigrant Visas. Fort Lee was selected as a temporary housing location because it met State Department and DoD criteria for a secure location with capacity to provide the needed support.
U.S. Northern Command has oversight of the DoD’s mission in support of the State Department. U.S. Army North, as the Joint Forces Land Component Command, is the operational-level command charged with execution.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Rabener, deputy commander of the 321st AEG, described the intensity of tasks his Airmen had to accomplish immediately upon hitting the ground.
“Most of the team worked on only two or three hours of sleep each night to turn a vacant barracks building into a medical screening facility on short notice,” he said. “We worked tirelessly through the early hours of the morning over several days to ensure we were prepared to accomplish the mission.”
Rabener’s team is responsible for completing the required medical examination required for visa issuance and processing the Afghan special immigrant applicants upon their arrival at Fort Lee.
“We see each individual over the course of two days for roughly two hours total, and complete a variety of laboratory screenings, medical exams and required vaccinations,” said Rabener.
The State Department requested the DoD provide support for up to 3,500 Afghan special immigrant applicants. Processing began July 30, immediately after the first group of Afghans arrived. Additional busloads rolled into Fort Lee Monday morning, and more are expected.
“It has been an honor and privilege to be part of the process to bring these families to safety,” said Rabener, who previously deployed to Afghanistan and witnessed the courage demonstrated by Afghan interpreters partnered with U.S. forces. “The Afghans I have met so far are relieved. They are excited to be here.”
U.S. Air Force Col. Jennifer Baggott, commander of the 321st AEG, expressed similar pride in the mission.
“It is an honor to be part of this task force,” she said. “And we want to ensure these Afghan special immigrant applicants can safely and securely complete the final administrative steps of the process before moving on to U.S. communities to begin their new lives.”
U.S. Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of USNORTHCOM, and U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major James Porterfield, the command’s senior enlisted leader, recently visited Fort Lee to see the task force first hand and thank them for their impressive accomplishments.
In addition to meeting with Task Force-Eagle, USNORTHCOM’s leaders met with three Afghan families, each of whom personally extended their appreciation for U.S. support. VanHerck emphasized the honor USNORTHCOM feels in supporting this critical and noble mission.