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What life is like for Afghan refugees at Fort Pickett: 'We have built a small city'

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Posted at 6:53 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 19:38:46-05

BLACKSTONE, Va. -- About 4,500 of the more than 10,000 Afghan refugees who have called Fort Pickett home since August remain at the base as of mid-December.

“In the last four months, we have built a small city,” General Brigadier Paul Craft said.

Sam Ansari
Sam Ansari

The rural military base in Blackstone has become home to thousands of Afghan evacuees like Sam Ansari, a translator who fled to America when the Taliban took over.

“It’s not safe anymore especially for those that worked shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. troops,” Ansari explained.

In the nearly four months since the evacuees arrived, the adjustment period has not been easy.

Adina
Adina

In fact, 26-year-old Adina had to leave her whole family behind in Kabul.

“They were not able to leave,” Adina said. “I want them to come here and start living.”

She is working to start a new life in America by spending her free time studying computer science in this designated computer room on base.

“I want to study and complete my university,” she said. “Then I want to work in the airport.”

Fort Pickett
Fort Pickett

CBS 6 reporter Caroline Coleburn recently toured the facilities evacuees rely on daily like a trailer where personal hygiene products are distributed.

There is also a tent where Afghans pick out clothing and a large facility where up to 3,600 traditional foods like falafels are served every day.

There are also medical facilities and mosques on the base.

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“They don’t have to abandon their cultural identity to really still become an American and have unique opportunities that they never would have found in Afghanistan,” Bravo Company Commander Kurt Hoenig said.

Hoenig, who oversees all of the Marines at Fort Pickett, has also been designated mayor of the Pickett Village 2000 Block where around 3,000 evacuees are currently housed.

“The big goal for the Marines is the safety and security of every single one of our guests,” Hoenig said.

While safety is a top priority, the commander and other Marines are often fist bumping and high-fiving Afghan children since 48 percent of the evacuees at the base are kids.

“A lot of my Marines are parents and family members themselves, so they like nothing better than to let the kids play on their arms,” Hoenig said.

Bravo Company Commander Kurt Hoenig
Bravo Company Commander Kurt Hoenig

Hoenig served in Afghanistan in 2012 and said the mission at Fort Pickett is personal.

“We had one objective to set up a free Afghanistan and if I couldn't do that at least I could help those that we were able to evacuate into success in America,” he said.

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Part of that success is ensuring every Afghan has the opportunity to study English and learn about potential jobs in the cities where they will resettle.

“They didn't know how to pick up the trash, use the toilet and now the kids are getting supervised here,” Ansari explained. “This is a start for them. It's a good school for everyone.”

Fort Pickett
Fort Pickett

While the mission over in Afghanistan has ended,the task to integrate Afghans like Sam and Adina to the U.S. continues.

“Some of the very real special moments in Afghanistan are Marines living and sleeping side by side with Afghan National Army, Afghan police – and very real moments of we’re in this together and that hasn’t changed here,” Hoenig said.

There has been no estimate as to when the remaining Afghans at the base will be resettled, but the Marines said they will continue doing their job ensuring safety until the last guest leaves.

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