CALIFORNIA’S VETERANS CAN HELP AFGHAN REFUGEES BEGIN LIVES ANEW

The 20-year war in Afghanistan is over. More than 2,400 American military personnel died fighting there. Four Californians were among the 13 servicemembers who perished in the evacuation operation’s final days. The war also claimed the lives of more than 3,600 civilian contractors and tens of thousands of Afghans since 2001.

Many Americans who served there maintain a tremendous loyalty and dedication to the interpreters and others who helped them when they were in Afghanistan.

Some, including Marine veteran Terry Slatic of Fresno, labored furiously to help Afghan allies to get out of Afghanistan and to safety. Slatic worked directly with authorities to secure immigration for his one-time Afghan interpreter who arrived in the U.S. last week.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Ranon Barber, stocks dinner meals at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Barber supported Operation Allies Refuge through building pods and stocking meals for Afghan evacuees.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Ranon Barber, stocks dinner meals at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Barber supported Operation Allies Refuge through building pods and stocking meals for Afghan evacuees. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Jared Lovett)

“He and I talked for a very long time yesterday,” Slatic told ABC30 in Fresno on Monday. “It was a phenomenal conversation. He is calm. A week ago, his life was at stake.”

Another Californian, U.S. Army veteran Spencer Sullivan, flew to Germany to help his former interpreter prepare for his visa hearing that will commence on Labor Day.

But now that the evacuation operation has ended, and with refugees arriving in California in large numbers, the need for help will be more expansive, and throughout the state. Organizations, including Sacramento-based Opening Doors, World Relief International, and the International Rescue Committee are well-connected humanitarian-social service agencies who specialize in helping refugees settle and adjust.

Veterans — and particularly ones who served in Afghanistan and Iraq — bring a tremendous understanding of the refugees’ culture, and can certainly assist them as they transition to western life.

“Employer mentoring, job interviewing – those are ways (veterans) can help,” said Kerry Ham of World Relief Sacramento. “Some of them (refugees) don’t have English language skills.”

California historically welcomes refugees: More than 64,500 of the 144,000 Afghans in America called the state home in a 2019 American Communities Survey.

A U.S. Navy Sailor and Afghan children evacuees put together puzzles at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy.
A U.S. Navy Sailor and Afghan children evacuees put together puzzles at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Kevin Pickard, Jr.)

More than 12,000 Afghan refugees have come to the Sacramento area alone since 2011, and the recent evacuation could easily bring 1,700 more, Opening Doors CEO Jessie Tientcheu said.

“Right now, we’re getting their immediate needs met,” Tientcheu said. “All of the things folks might benefit from to help them adjust.” They’ll need housing, help at the supermarket, and learning to deal with coin-op machines at a laundromat, Tientcheu said. Later, after their initial acclimation, the refugees will want to obtain drivers’ licenses, which includes learning to negotiate the Department of Motor Vehicles’ processes.

While the interpreters themselves generally speak English fluently, other refugees might  require language help. Most will need assistance in finding jobs, job training, and developing interviewing skills as well as enrolling their children in schools. They will also need financial mentorships, health and mental health care, and more.

Certainly, the assistance refugees are needing, in turn create opportunities for veterans who still want to serve here at home.


For more information about benefits and services for California veterans and their families, call CalVet at 800-952-5626 during regular business hours or visit www.calvet.ca.gov.

If you are a veteran in crisis or concerned about someone who is, call the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) crisis help line at (800) 273-8255 and select 1 for confidential help. To contact the VA for other assistance, call 800-698-2411.

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