302nd Airlift Wing members supported Operation Allies Welcome

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg
  • 302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office

Several members from the 302nd Airlift Wing recently deployed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL), New Jersey, to welcome and support refugees from Afghanistan during Operation Allies Welcome.

The Reserve Citizen Airmen were assigned to one of three villages from late 2021 through early 2022. They helped provide guests with supplies, food and transportation for incoming and outgoing individuals, and acted as overall liaisons between the guests and other organizations. JBMDL was one of eight installations to temporarily house refugees where they were provided multiple resources, including access to medical and resettlement agencies.

“I felt extremely proud to have been a part of the drastic lifestyle change of the Afghan refugees,” said Tech. Sgt. Jose Hernandez Garcia, 302nd Logistics Readiness Squadron traffic management craftsman and team leader for movement operations at Village 3. “It's a big deal to recognize that everything these refugees had built up their entire lives from a different country--they had to bring with them in suitcases and establish themselves again, essentially starting a new life.”

Hernandez Garcia and several others from the 302 LRS were assigned to Village 3 in various support roles. When the guests arrived and required isolation, they were placed in separate dorms. Senior Airman Shawnte DeValerio, 302nd Airlift Wing Judge Advocate office, provided supplies and food directly to the guests rooms while bringing donations and coloring books to kids. Altogether, she and her team supported over 400 guests.

One highlight from the experience for DeValerio was a wall where the children posted their artwork from the coloring books. She said she would often look at all the artwork and, when it was time to return home, she took some back with her. Another impactful moment was a conversation she had with one of the women where DeValerio provided her with words of encouragement, telling her how strong she is.

For Village 3 movement team member Senior Airman Anahi Navarrete, 302 LRS, the most impactful moment was teaching the children a bubble gum counting song in the evenings. Navarrete said the children remembered the song so well that they were counting to the number 10 proudly by themselves. Some days the tasks for the movement team were harder than others, like when there was a COVID surge through the village. The children were what helped Navarrete get through the tough times.

“I would hear my name being yelled from across the way by the children running full speed to greet me with hugs and the only phrase most of them knew--‘Hi, how are you?’” said Navarrete. “It made my heart light up every time!”

Overall, the reservists said they felt proud that they were able to help and support the guests who had to leave their homes and belongings to start again in a different country. Once the guests received all the resources they needed to begin their new life in the U.S., they departed from their village at JBMDL. The last group departed at the end of February, so the 302 AW reservists returned home.

“The endings are always super bittersweet. Sometimes we didn’t get to say goodbye and slowly I stopped seeing my friends around the village. The bubble gum song circle got smaller and quieter,” said Navarrete. “I, of course, was so happy for all of them, but I will think back on this experience for a long time and wonder if I impacted their lives the way they did mine.”