NBC12, KARINA BOLSTER
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) confirmed late Wednesday evening, Fort Pickett in Blackstone will be utilized for temporary housing and support for refugees from Afghanistan, according to a Virginia Congresswoman’s Office.
U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger released a statement around 6 p.m. regarding the DoD confirmation to her office.
“This afternoon, our office received confirmation from the U.S. Department of Defense that Fort Pickett in Nottoway County has been authorized to support the temporary housing of Afghan SIV applicants — who served alongside U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan — and their families, as well as other at-risk individuals,” Spanberger said. “My office is requesting additional information from administration officials about these plans and how they will impact the Seventh District.”
On Wednesday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., NBC12 received an email from the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) stating, “Military departments are continuing to identify potential bases to meet potential expanded need, and we will notify you accordingly if any new sites are approved to support the Afghan evacuee mission.”
This information comes after Senator Mark Warner stopped in Blackstone on Wednesday to address the future of Fort Pickett.
“I think within a day or two, I would expect that Pickett might be selected as another point,” Warner said.
The current four military bases across the country are Fort Lee, Fort McCoy (Wisconsin), Fort Bliss (Texas) and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (New Jersey) can provide temporary housing and support for roughly 50,000 refugees.
“Additionally, DoD, through U.S. Northern Command, has agreed to provide to the Department of State (DOS) transportation and temporary housing, sustainment, and support inside the United States for Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, their families, and other at risk individuals at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible,” an official with USNORTHCOM said. “Support will be provided on DoD installations and through the use of assisted acquisition for the use of non-DoD land and facilities.”
However, with tens of thousands of people still left to be evacuated before the Aug. 31 deadline, Virginia leaders say the need for more processing sites is crucial.
“We’re close to 70,000 folks that we’ve taken out of Afghanistan, American citizens and Afghans,” Warner said. “Yesterday was close to 20,000 that came out.”
It was why Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn was confident, Fort Pickett would be added to the list.
“They’re freedom fighters who risked their lives and the lives of their family members to give to the American servicemen and servicewomen,” Coleburn said. “This military community stands behind those people.”
The Governor’s Office confirmed Wednesday morning preparation was already underway at Fort Pickett.
“In the form of cutting grass in a field for potential large tents where people can be processed,” Coleburn said. “I understand there’s a fierce cleaning activity of some of the barracks, old and renovated barracks.”
As for how many refugees could soon arrive in Blackstone, that number is constantly changing, according to Coleburn. Originally, he heard a report of 10,000 men and women, however, on Wednesday he estimated hundreds.
“Someone very familiar with the operations at Fort Pickett talked to me today… ‘Billy, the numbers change by the hour,’” Coleburn added.
However, before the refugees step foot on American soil, they go through extensive biometric screenings and testing for COVID-19.
“They’re going to be offered vaccines,” Warner said. “Good news is they’re taking them at a higher rate than Virginians. If they do come to Fort Pickett, it will be like Fort Lee where they will come and then move on elsewhere in the country.”
Warner said most refugees were staying at Fort Lee anywhere from two to five days before heading to communities sponsoring those who evacuated.
“We’ve got a big, big Afghan community up in Northern Virginia, they’re taking in a lot of people,” he added.
Meanwhile, Coleburn said a vast majority of the community is ready to help.
“Blackstone wants to do all it can to support, applaud and comfort these folks who are probably facing the probability they will never return home,” he added.
At this time, there is no word on when the first group of refugees may arrive in Fort Pickett.