Just before sunset Thursday night, a commercial airliner soared over Barnegat Bay and nearly parallel to the path of the Metedeconk River in Brick Township. Flying much lower than large jets on approach to New York and Philadelphia airports, the plane was visually noticeable from a boat on the river with a wide view of the sky.
A check of flight records showed the plane was one of the very first flights of evacuees from Afghanistan to the United States. The Boeing 767, operated by ABX Air, is part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet – commercial airlines that can be called to military service when necessary. The flight originated at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany, then refueled in the Azores before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to its destination at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The base will be one of four locations in the United States that will house Afghan evacuees who helped coalition forces during the 20-year conflict in their home country. The nation has fallen to the Taliban regime over the past several weeks, ultimately marked by violence that led to American casualties Thursday.
Back home, base officials shared additional details with Shorebeat this week about the operation to house the refugees at MDL.
As it currently stands, the United States Air Force will make base facilities available to evacuees and mobilize the temporary shelter of up to 9,500 refugees known as Afghan Special Immigrants, or ASIs. The immigrants will be authorized to remain at the Joint Base for up to 365 days.
Derek VanHorn, a base spokesperson, said the refugee operation includes the utilization of existing facilities as well as the construction of temporary shelters on a former parade ground on Dix Area of the joint base.
“The need for the proposed action is to provide safe haven and shelter at JB-MDL for ASIs who assisted the U.S. and our allies,” a statement from the base said.
An environmental impact statement found that the construction would have no significant impact on the natural lands at the base. As the bureaucratic effort played out behind the scenes, base task force personnel prepared to welcome the nation’s newest residents.
“Last night, the task force welcomed the first group of Afghans for housing, food, medical screening and treatment, and other services,” the base statement said. “We expect these arrivals to continue throughout today, and the coming days. “
The task force will soon be releasing information on how local residents can help with the refugee protection effort.