Operation Allies Welcome cultivates a multicultural vocation> Air National Guard> Posting the article

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, NJ – It would be easy to forget the Air Force Sergeant Major. Sharon Queenie, inconspicuous in her OCP uniform, N-95 mask and orange safety vest, blending in with nearly every military member posted here to support Operation Allies Welcome. What makes her trip unique is that she is one of the few Native American women assigned to Task Force Liberty, a descendant of the Yupik Eskimo tribe of St. Mary’s, Alaska.

The Command and Control Combat Management Specialist is assigned to the 176th Air Defense Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska Air National Guard, and has flown nearly 4,000 miles to the ever-expanding Task Force Liberty Village 3, working in public security and helping to welcome the most recent Afghan evacuees to America.

“The first day here it was a little overwhelming because there were so many moving parts, a lot of people moving into the village and a lot of small children seemingly everywhere,” Queenie said with a laugh, describing her first impressions upon arrival on September 11. “I don’t know if it was me, but these kids seemed to like us.”

As the mother of a 4-year-old boy, Queenie immediately identified with Afghan children. “Learning their language and I teaching them is almost like I was talking to my own son. We were counting numbers, doing ABCs, all the while interposing Pashto and English.”

This bond of hospitality and curiosity was extended to the Afghan women she met.

“They are very affectionate; they want to know about me, where I am from, what my son looks like, even how big my family is,” Queenie said, referring to her Inuit physical features.

When recounting her background, Queenie can point out similarities with her Afghan counterparts, describing a tightly knit tribal community that sometimes lacked basic amenities, like clean water and reliable utilities.

“My grandfather was in the Alaska Territorial Guard, before we were a state, and almost all of my male family members served in the Army National Guard,” she said. , proudly noting her status as the first woman in her family to serve. in the army. “Yet there are real social and economic problems. Our community is cut off from essential services, and it can take hours for the police or medical first responders to show up.”

Drawing on a similar sense of awareness, persistence, cultural identity and vulnerability, Queenie said it was for these reasons that she volunteered for this mission.

“I thought I could have an immediate impact coming here. I know these struggles, and I also know how to overcome the stigma and the challenges that many of these people face,” she said.

During her public safety rounds in Liberty Village, Queenie works alongside her fellow Alaska wingman, “Master Sgt. Judy Phommathep, Aircraft Sheet Metal Specialist. At her home station, she participates in maintenance of 176 Wing C-17 Globemaster III and C-130-J Super Hercules airframes.

“The initial call for volunteers for this mission specifically asked for female soldiers to support Afghan women, so I was immediately interested,” said Phommathep. “Seeing all of this opened my eyes, and I can connect with these Afghans, remember my own family’s experience and what they may have been through.”

Both of her parents fled Laos in the late 1970s, heading to a refugee camp in Thailand at the end of the Vietnam War. Although Phommathep was born in the United States, she described the traumatic stories of her parents’ escape and survival and the birth of her older sister in a Thai refugee camp.

“My parents came to the United States in 1979 after finally leaving Thailand. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, just 40 miles away, so coming here now is also somewhat ironic,” he said. she declared. “I just wanted to step in when I got here and help wherever I can.”

With energy and determination, Phommathep also said that she hopes to be able to convey to the children how bright their future will be through her own experience.

“Because of the things my parents went through coming to America – the opportunities and things they could afford for my sister and I – to be here now, it’s pretty awesome.”

Tech shares this ability to identify with a passionate desire to give something back to Sgt. Cassie Saephanh, audiologist assigned to 194 Wing Medical Group at Camp Murray, Washington.

“My parents came to the United States as refugees… displaced from their home countries,” she said, stopping emotionally. “It just touched my heart to want to be here. I felt it was my way of thanking America for welcoming my parents. It is I who give back to my nation.”

Like Phommathep, Saephanh’s family fled Laos in the late 1970s. She was born and raised in Seattle. As a general support member arriving to augment the OAW mission, Saephanh was assigned to the Joint Readiness Center to respond to rapid daily changes with Afghan guests arriving at TF Liberty.

“We raised platform 11, which was an overflow hangar to pass evacuees. Our team also worked as a chaperone for the transport of our Afghan guests, and we helped organize the clothing distribution in Village 2, making sure everyone had sundries and clothes to make them last a long time. day or two, ”she said.

As an Air Force public health specialist, Saephanh spent most of his time in the medical isolation dormitory, administering COVID-19 tests for Afghan guests.

“We are able to teach our guests about social distancing, wearing a mask and looking for symptoms. By mitigating the spread we were able to start bringing the numbers down,” she said.

Staff working in COVID dormitories have also delivered door-to-door meals for people who are COVID positive and potentially at risk in quarantine. Culturally appropriate dishes included lamb and chicken, as well as rice and potatoes.

Saephanh said fruits, dates and nuts are popular snacks.

“These extra gestures all added up,” she said. “Kids especially like to have healthy snack time options.”

When many Afghans first joined Task Force Liberty, food insecurity was a concern after their extended trip to the United States. As part of their catering facility (DFAC) opened at Village 3, many of these concerns began to dissipate.

“Just in two or three days, after DFAC 3 opened, there was a noticeable change,” Queenie said. “With more gas stations and fewer queues, the atmosphere was calmer.”

As she walked through DFAC 3, Queenie stopped to speak to Bobby Stern and Océane Hooks-Camilleri during the lunchtime rush. It was a brief conversation, but one that provided some insight into the effectiveness of the relationship between military and civilian contractors.

Stern and Hooks-Camilleri have learned many lessons to feed larger and more vulnerable populations through their work with their company, Disaster Management Group.

“Food is the one constant that everyone shares.… It is important that we allow customers to experience America, but also to pay homage to their country of origin,” said Stern.

With nine years of experience catering to large groups in New York City, Hooks-Camilleri recently completed his Masters in Global Affairs at New York University, focusing on providing food to large, multicultural groups.

“I was struck by the cross-cultural experience this represents, not only for the guests we serve, but also for our personnel and military personnel. It’s extremely multicultural; there is so much diversity with the opportunity to come together, ”said Hooks-Camilleri, referring to the heart of OAW’s mission and the atmosphere of teamwork.

“I’m just in awe of these times when they happen; there is such a deep humanity in our interactions and the way we foster that with our guests,” she said.

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