Afghans, Americans reunite at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

·3 min read

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST – Hope Williams “didn’t think it was real” when she glimpsed a familiar face among the thousands of Afghans at an evacuee center here.

Williams, who spent years working on U.S. development projects in Afghanistan, had spotted a close friend among the refugees leaving a dining facility at the South Jersey base.

“We just broke off running towards each other,” said Williams, who had lost contact with her friend, identified as Miriam, since Afghanistan’s tumultuous fall last year to the Taliban.

“I think we held and embraced and cried for 15 minutes,” said Williams, who spent three years in Afghanistan with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and who maintained a virtual connection with Miriam for a longer period.

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The unexpected reunion was also a powerful moment for Miriam, who’s still coping with her abrupt departure from her native land.

“I'm still in the grief and trauma that I have left my family behind,” said Miriam, a former engineer on USAID infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.

“But seeing her is a family feeling that’s very special to me,” she said in a video posted to the base’s Facebook page. “I was able to hug her. I was able to express my old feelings, cry with her and share my frustrations.”

The unexpected meeting was “just one instance of (U.S.) personnel reuniting with those who worked alongside them in Afghanistan,” the Jan. 9 Facebook post noted.

A video posted Sunday showed the renewed connection between Navy Captain Elizabeth Greenwood and Waleed, an Afghan interpreter who was then living at the Liberty Village complex..

Hope Williams, right, a USAID staffer who worked in Afghan, reunites with Miriam, an Afghan friend, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Hope Williams, right, a USAID staffer who worked in Afghan, reunites with Miriam, an Afghan friend, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

“A lot of us, I think, had the same feeling, wondering where the people we worked with had turned up, how they were doing, how their families were doing,” said Greenwood. She met Waleed just over a decade ago as the lead linguist for projects intended to help Afghan women in the country’s Khost province.

Waleed said he, too, reacted with disbelief to encountering his former colleague.

But he added, “I … became very happy.”

Both Williams and Greenwood have completed their assignments at Liberty Village and have departed for their home stations, a base spokesperson said Tuesday.

Some 13,000 Afghans have found a temporary home at the joint base, said Space Force Lt. Col. Adam Howland, the cultural advisory lead for Task Force Liberty.

“These are our brothers and our sisters,” the Afghanistan veteran said. “We worked alongside many of their families for many years."

Howland said the resettlement program “is about keeping a promise” to Afghans that America’s 20-year presence in their country would “help them build a place that was safe and secure for them.”

“In ways that we could not do that in Afghanistan, we can do that for them here,” he said in a third video.

Williams echoed that view in commenting on her reunion with Miriam.

“When I did see her, it became real that she was standing here in the flesh,” she recalled. “I know that she will now have a future, like many of the other Afghans that we were able to evacuate and that’s very exciting.”

Jim Walsh covers public safety, economic development and other beats for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal.

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This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Americans who served in Afghanistan find familiar faces among evacuees

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