Welcoming our Afghan partners as they have welcomed us, with love and respect

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Lt Cmdr. John Ripley is a public affairs officer in the United States Navy Reserve. He resides in South Portland.

As of mid-January, through Operation Allies Welcome, the United States has resettled more than 57,000 Afghan evacuees placed in communities across the country. This achievement was, and continues to be, the result of a massive effort between the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of State, dozens of nongovernmental organizations, and thousands of volunteers, all led by the Department of Homeland Security.

It was truly what we call a “whole of government” response and represents the best that America has to offer. As a Navy Reserve Public Affairs Officer and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, the decision to volunteer and join this mission was an easy one last fall.

Despite the immense scale of Operation Allies Welcome, we never forget what these programs represent and their progress. Each of these evacuees is a family member, a person, and each brings with him not only his personal story but also his future.

How many of these Afghan children will tell their grandchildren how they got to America in 2021? How many of these Afghan children will become part of American history itself, like so many immigrants before them?

So, as government officials, we have moved the needle, but as public affairs officers, my colleagues and I can also help tell the stories of the shelter sites around the country where evacuees are temporarily residing. as they go through the resettlement process. . It is both a profound honor and an enormous responsibility.

I often think of my dear friend Mozhda, originally from Afghanistan, who emigrated to the United States in 2015. When we met in 2013, I was deployed with the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, and she worked in a small coffee shack on base. Like the rest of his family and other Afghans, Mozhda has experienced a lifetime of war and has lost family members to Taliban brutality. Yet she is one of the most dynamic and courageous people I have ever met. she is truly a personal heroine of mine, and I am honored to call her a friend.

Mozhda and her family represent my personal metric.

In a photo I keep at my desk, Mozhda is with her sister and her family in a safe haven on a military installation in New Mexico. Next to Mozhda is her nephew, a toddler, with the innocent expression of an unblemished soul.

Fortunately, nothing in his behavior reflects the way the Taliban whipped this little boy during one of their escape attempts when Kabul fell last August. The family was nearly killed another time and were still – still – in danger of being caught and slaughtered. I played a small part in helping them evacuate, and I don’t mind saying I cried when I heard they had landed safely in Qatar.

Fortunately, they are now all safely settled with other family members in the Northeast, where their story will continue to shape the American narrative. Think about it: so far, there are over 57,000 stories like Mozhda’s, with more to come.

During my stay in Afghanistan, Mozhda and other Afghans welcomed me with peace, love and respect. Now, nearly a decade later, we have the opportunity to recapture that spirit with Operation Allies Welcome.

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