Afghan refugees arrive at Fort McCoy

Afghan refugees began arriving at Wisconsin's Fort McCoy Sunday, Aug. 22, officials announced, where they'll receive temporary housing and other services.

According to a press release from Fort McCoy, the Special Immigrant Visa applicants, their families and other individuals at risk arrived at the post, one of three military installations housing Afghan refugees in the United States. We don't yet know how many people Fort McCoy plans to take in. The Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office said they are not yet authorized to share numbers or plan specifics.

We know they'll be processing and caring for those that are vulnerable, while local and national officials say the work is far from over.

Approximately 1,000 service members from multiple units of the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve have begun to assemble at Fort McCoy to provide support to "Operation Allies Refuge," Fort McCoy officials said Sunday, with refugee arrivals expected to continue throughout the day and the coming days.

The arrival at Fort McCoy is "in addition to the small number of Afghans currently finalizing their processing at Fort Lee, Va.," with officials noting they are "working to build additional capacity" at Fort McCoy, Fort Lee and Fort Bliss in Texas, along with "potentially other military locations as required."

"The task force at Fort McCoy will provide the housing, medical, logistics, and transportation support. The Fort McCoy community is proud to join U.S. Army North, U.S. Northern Command and the Department of Defense team in supporting the State Department with this mission. We look forward to the opportunity to treat our temporary guests with the utmost respect and Wisconsin hospitality as they commence their Special Immigrant Visa process," Fort McCoy officials said in the release.

Monroe County Local History Room & Museum

Monroe County Local History Room & Museum

Some 41 years after Fort McCoy took in Cuban refugees, Tomah Mayor Mike Murray said it feels a bit familiar.

"This concept of handling large numbers of human beings being processed in a formulation like this, again, it's not unusual to them," said Mayor Murray.

All of the refugees are trying to escape Afghanistan amid fear of the Taliban takeover.

"This isn't a vacation, you know?" said Mayor Murray. "This is people's lives being uprooted and going through this process."

Their arrival comes amid pressure on the United States to safely evacuate vulnerable allies as well as stranded Americans.

Afghan people queue up to board a U.S. military aircraft to leave Afghanistan at the military airport in Kabul on Aug. 19, 2021 after Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by SHAKIB RAHMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

"The people that are in the Special Immigrant Visa program are, are very, very important to us, and these would be the, uh, the interpreters and many of the, the, the staff that supported our embassy," said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on "This Week."

The Public Affairs Office said Fort McCoy will also provide medical, logistics and transportation support, a mission Murray said he's confident Fort McCoy can handle.

"You hope for as smooth a transition as it could possibly be because you just don't want something to go wrong," he said.

Last week, a Defense Department official told reporters the three Army posts are preparing to house 22,000 refugees, but again, we don't know how those numbers will break down just yet. A representative said we can expect more details at some point this week.

COVID tests for Wisconsin Afghan refugees, vaccine not required

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said right now, Wisconsin's Fort McCoy is prepared to house a couple thousand Afghan refugees, but they're getting ready for even more and also worrying about the coronavirus pandemic.