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Austin's trip to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey on Monday marks his first visit to one of the resettlement areas, and it comes one day before he is set to testify on Capitol Hill about the withdrawal.
"I want to express my personal gratitude for all that you've done on very short notice to pull together a significant capability that will no doubt impact a lot of people's lives forever ... You are, in many cases, the first Americans that some of our guests really form a bond with. And so what you [do] makes all the difference in the world," Austin said to service members, according to the Department of Defense.
"They will remember this experience for the rest of their lives," he added. "So, I want to say — on behalf of our country, on behalf of the U.S. military, on behalf of the interagency — thank you so much for what you do to come together to work as a team."
There are more than 9,000 Afghans at Joint Base McGuire-Dix, with full capacity set at 13,000. All eight bases used to house Afghan refugees will hold 50,000 once they're operating at full capacity.
The United States has temporarily halted inbound flights of Afghan refugees at the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention after 16 cases of measles and four cases of mumps were reported. Afghans at the bases have gotten vaccinated for measles and COVID-19.
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Air Force chief of staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr., and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass visited the base two days before Austin's visit.
“There was one mission here and one team came together,” Kendall said in a statement. “It combines all the elements when I talk about one team, one fight. It was a joint and multi-agency team giving terrific effort. Local communities are involved with donations and volunteering. The American team came together to perform a mission and did it amazingly.”
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Original Author: Mike Brest