FORT PICKETT, Va. –
The last group of Afghan nationals temporarily housed as part of Operation Allies Welcome at Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett, Virginia, departed Feb. 1, 2022, and the Department of Homeland Security said more than 10,000 Afghan guests processed through the installation. While a multi-service task force was in the lead for OAW, Soldiers and civilian staff assigned to MTC provided vital support key to the success of the operation.
“I am extremely proud of the work of our installation team supporting Task Force Pickett,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “These dedicated professionals were instrumental to the extraordinary success of the task force.”
Since August 2021, Fort Pickett served as one of eight safe havens in the United States designated to provide transportation, temporary housing, medical screening and general support for Afghan evacuees in permanent or temporary structures.
“I remain impressed with how our military members and the interagency team at Fort Pickett worked together to enable the resettlement of more than 10,300 Afghan personnel to their new communities here in America," said Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command.
Despite the massive scale and short-notice nature of the operation, Col. Timothy Pillion, MTC Fort Pickett garrison commander, said his staff was up to the challenge.
“We were able to rapidly transition from supporting training to supporting their mission,” said Pillion. “It’s been entirely different, it’s thrown us off of what we were planning on for the year, but it’s been good in a lot of ways, building relationships with them and understanding the importance of this mission. It’s truly historical.”
According to Pillion, Soldiers and state personnel in the Directorate of Public Works and the Fort Pickett Fire Department provided the most support for the immense operation hosted by installation, responding to routine and emergency calls for service and keeping the facilities being used by the task force up and running.
“Those two sections in particular have done a great job stepping up and responding to that and adjusting how they do business and that increased workload,” said Pillion.
The numbers tell the story of the increased work load for the fire department. According to Pillion, the department topped 1,000 calls for services in 2021 before Thanksgiving.
“It was the first time they’ve gone over that number of calls,” said the commander. “Now, a lot of those calls have been just false alarms, kids pulling fire pull stations and things like that, but it still causes them to have to respond. They’ve done an excellent job of managing that additional load, working with our Afghan guests and trying to educate them a little bit as they go and do their job.”
The level of support provided by the DPW staff is no less impressive.
“I don’t know what the count is now, but it was well over 1,000 OAW-related work orders,” explained Pillion. “They’ve had to step up with the regular full-time manning as well as adding some contracts in for folks to come in on off-duty hours, above and beyond what their capacity is. They’ve dealt with everything from clogged toilets, broken fixtures to heating and cooling issues.”
“The garrison has done a tremendous job to ensure the Afghans are as comfortable as possible, and we worked with the task force daily to ensure their needs are met,” said Col. Todd H. Hubbard, Virginia Army National Guard. “We are very proud of our team and the amount of work invested.”
Also contributing to the success of the mission were VNG Soldiers assigned to the Manassas-based 229th Military Police Company, 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. Working for the MTC Directorate of Plans, Training and Security, the MPs responded to a short-notice alert to augment force protection measures as a result of OAW operations at MTC Fort Pickett in September 2021. They provided additional security patrols, traffic enforcement, and supported access control point security at the installation. They concluded their mission in January 2022 with a short ceremony where they were awarded certificates of appreciation and challenge coins from their battalion commander.
“You know your job, you get it done well. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that,” said Maj. Carlos Maldonado, commander of the 529th CSSB, during the ceremony. “I know you’ve been here a long time and you’ve sacrificed certain things, but you’ve accomplished the mission. That’s the bottom line, and you took care of each other.”
The Virginia Army National Guard’s facilities management team also played a key role in supporting the OAW mission at Fort Pickett.
“It has been a series of proud moments watching the facilities team rise to the occasion showing an agility and effectiveness that has impressed many who do this emergency logistics work for a living at the national level,” said Charlton Dunn, the VNG construction and facility management officer. “They sustained a highly demanding pace until additional resources could be engaged to ensure the mission did not stall initially. The craftsmen, support personnel, and leadership of the Directorate of Public Works bore the burden where the rubber met the road with maintenance personnel and support staff at VAFM providing specialty services and engaging in the national level discussions necessary to craft this first-of-a-kind national mission.”
With the departure of the last Afghan national, Pillion said the bulk of the work now turns over to the MTC Directorate of Logistics.
"DOL will oversee the next heavy lift of turning in and resetting the facilities for our training units," said Pillion. "They've also played an important role over the last few months and will continue to do so as we transition back to normal operations."
Some of the improvements made to the installation as a result of preparing for the OAW mission will remain now that the mission is complete, which will benefits units coming to train at MTC in the future.
“There’s some other little things that we’ve benefitted from. For example, the field where Pickett Village is. Back in August, that was just a grass field with some utilities there to support large training events. Now it’s been improved, graded and had a half a million dollars of gravel added,” said Pillion. “That will remain once they remove the trailers and they take the big tents down. They’ll leave that gravel in place, which leaves us with a better place if a unit comes in and needs to set up large tents or stage for an event."
Ultimately, Pillion said while the unexpected OAW mission may have been a surprise, it’s one which showcased the flexibility and excellence of the MTC staff.
According to DHS, the United States has welcomed more than 76,000 Afghans as part of the operation.