File Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael West Operation Allies Welcome – Operation Allies Refuge
Leaving your country, home, and everything familiar can be devastating. That’s exactly what happened to the Afghan evacuees on Fort Bliss Dona Aña Complex in New Mexico.
Some need a shoulder to lean on when going through tragic experiences. The 528th Hospital Center deployed a behavioral health team in support of Operation Allies Welcome, an initiative by the Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, in support of the Department of Homeland Security, to provide transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible.
This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan.
The behavioral health teams’ mission is to provide counseling and emotional support to those working and living at Doña Ana Complex. Soldiers on the team sit and listen to those who just need to talk or check in to see if they are getting plenty to eat and drink, and try to understand if there is anything that will improve their quality of life.
“Our overall goal is to make sure the welfare, morale, and behavioral health needs are met for all soldiers, guests, and contractors so we can actively do this mission efficiently,” said Cpl. Brett Armstrong, a behavioral health specialist assigned to the 528th Hospital Center, 1st
Medical Brigade, 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
“I’ve seen a patient of mine whose entire family is still in Kabul; her three kids, her husband are still in Kabul, and for the very first time a few days ago I saw her smile,” Armstrong said. “That meant a lot to me.”
Sgt. Malique Jones, a behavioral health specialist, assigned to the 528th Hospital Center, is also a member of the behavioral health team. He explains that much of their job is speaking with Afghan evacuees and soldiers, listening to any of the concerns they may have.
“Pretty much we just sit with the soldiers or guests and just have conversations with them, understand what their concerns are out here, what are some things they’d like to see happen to make their quality of life out here better,” Jones said. “So a big part of our job is advocating for their needs and then also just trying to provide those services for them like counseling.”
Jones says at first the team didn’t get a lot of attention, but over time soldiers and Afghan evacuees spread the word and they now have regular patients. The number of individuals returning to the team for more counseling and suggesting it to others to seek counseling is a testament to the team’s effectiveness
“I love it out here, being able to talk to people, to soldiers, to the guests and just knowing I’m having an impact on their day to day lives is great,” Jones said.