BLACKSTONE, Va. (WRIC)– We’re getting a first-look inside the living quarters at Fort Pickett where thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan have been staying for temporary housing.
Since Aug. 28, 10,000 Afghan guests have made their way through Fort Pickett with 4,500 still currently on the base. The community is built to hold 8,000 people at a time, all of who are trying to move forward after an unimaginable trauma.
Khalil Ullah Stanikzai is living on the base with his wife and two children. According to Stanikzai, he was living in Kabul when the government collapsed. He made attempts to go to the airport but couldn’t due to the rush.
“I didn’t want to risk my kids life because getting inside was almost impossible for most people who had kids with them,” Sanikzai said.
Sanikzai said his employer arranged transportation for him to get to the airport safely with his family and called the atmosphere ‘a mess.’ After he boarded the plane with his family, the plane made a stop in Bahrain before heading to Washington D.C.
“That was the first moment that I’ve seen how you guys welcomed us,”Stanikzai said. “My wife said to me that this is the first time in my whole life that I think I’m a human.”
Stanikzai told 8News they were greeted with food and gifts.
Like Stanikzai, many Afghan allies have been staying at Fort Pickett for months. The refugees have been staying in three ‘villages’ on the base, all filled with bathroom and washing machine facilities. In the Pickett village there are 166 tractor trailers that house between 20-28 guests each.
Major James Clement has been a marine for the last 14 years and handles one of the villages.
“There’s good people that are going to make good U.S. citizens,” Clement said.
The Department of Homeland Security is heading up the operation. Brigadier General Paul Craft is the Commander of Task Force Pickett. Craft leads 1,300 Department of Defense personnel from various military units across the country to provide transportation and assist with housing and logistic support.
“We are side by side with our guests and are trying to give them a small glimpse of what it would be like to live and thrive in America,” Craft said.
On the base, a dining facility serves food to 3,600 guests within a two-hour time span. There are hygiene and clothing distribution areas, and plenty of space for recreation. There are multi-purpose fields where the Afghan allies enjoy playing soccer and cricket.
The allies can also enjoy other activities like watching movies, yoga, sewing and tea time.
Nalofar Maqsoodi is from Kabul and has been living on the base for more than three months with her husband and three children. Maqsoodi said her husband was working for the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan and is happy that her family was able to get out of the war.
“I was born in war. I never got the chance to study. The chance I have right now, I want to complete my education,” Maqsoodi said. “I want to let the world know that if a woman decides to do something, we’ll do it.”
There’s opportunity for the guests to further their education in several areas. They’re being taught English and there’s a library and a computer lab where medical professionals are studying to practice in the U.S.
Captain Sara Moser is a member of the United States Coast Guard and is a part of the Department of Homeland Security Team. Moser arrived at the base in October.
“We’re very grateful to be part of a mission where we can help folks who have contributed so much to our country, that we can in turn help them,” Moser said.
There are nine resettlement agencies in the U.S. and more than 200 resettlement affiliates. They are tasked with determining which city each family will relocate to. Afghan allies could be headed anywhere from Iowa to Tampa, Florida and do get the chance to provide any preferences on where they would like to settle. Everyone has a case number and their process is tracked.
They get to take their medical records with them, get vaccinated for COVID-19, and receive an identification card and social security number. When they’re ready to resettle, a bus will take them to the airport. So far 5,500 people have resettled.
“To the whole United States, I want to thank you for everything you’re doing for these people,” Stanikzai said.