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Grand Forks Air Force Base flexes with swift transition from Operation Allies Refuge to Operation Allies Welcome

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Brandon Shapiro
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing

After providing critical high-altitude overwatch and intelligence support for the largest airlift in American history, within hours, the 319th Reconnaissance Wing pivoted to worldwide relocation support.

In the first 48 hours of tasking notifications, 11 Airmen were in place and assisting refugees.

From security and administration to logistics and linguistics, more than 35 Grand Forks Airmen from over a dozen career fields deployed to assist with Operation Allies Welcome, the majority aiding Holloman Air Force Base and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Without an all-in effort from the entire base, the undertaking wouldn’t have been possible.

“Given the short-to-no-notice nature of the taskings, the initial selection and processing of individuals was tremendously busy,” said 2nd Lt. Kayla Beede, an Installation Deployment Officer for the 319th.

“The responsiveness and flexibility of our Unit Deployment Managers and supporting agencies put everything in motion. They were able to fast track medical clearances, the dispatching of deployment gear, the creation of orders, and the purchasing of flights.”

In addition to supporting the general taskings for Operation Allies Welcome, Beede and her crew were able to fill four critical taskings. Two of those were for interpreters, which she sent two former Afghan linguists who spoke Dari. The other two were hand-selected to be part of Task Force Liberty as American ambassadors. 

Heading Task Force Liberty’s J1 directorate of manpower and personnel was the 319th’s Capt. Janilie Vecchio, who established all personnel and manpower policies for approximately 3,000 joint and total force personnel. This includes reporting total force and Afghan guest accountability.

“Having the opportunity to support OAW was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences I believe I will ever have in my career; it was humbling to be a part of the conclusion of an effort that many before us supported,” said Vecchio. “Aside from executing the mission, the most memorable time for me was playing and laughing with the Afghan children.  It’s my hope that in 10 to 15 years from now, they remember what we did for them and how much they inspired us.”

Stories like Vecchio’s echo from every location that served as sanctuary for the Afghan refugees; they are testaments to the true nature of the American people; they showcase just how agile the United States military is -- turning concept to idea with no playbook to reference and little time to react.

As of February 2, because of the support of the 319th, the United States has welcomed more than 76,000 Afghans to the United States through Operation Allies Welcome, providing them with support and assistance as they begin their new lives in America.