UPDATE: Afghan refugee at Fort McCoy says they’re hungry, task force resolving issue

An 'Operation Allies Welcome' spokesman says supply chain problems have been resolved

FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WKBT) — Roughly 12,500 Afghan refugees are staying at Fort McCoy. For the first time, we are hearing from one of them.  He says things are not going well.  This refugee has been at Fort McCoy for 10 days. He told us that he and others are hungry. 

Behind the gate at Fort McCoy, thousands of Afghan refugees are waiting for visa processing and paperwork and for their next meal.

“More than 100 people who go to bed without getting any food, ” said A.J., who says he worked as a combat linguist for NATO and the United States for seven years.

He was in the process of immigrating to the U.S., when American troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over.  He got out, but had to leave his mother and sisters behind. News 8 Now is not showing his face or using his real name because he fears the Taliban may hurt his family.  

It’s hard for A.J. to say whether the pit in his stomach is from worry or from hunger. A.J. snapped these photos last week and says meals like this are a typical breakfast and  dinner. He also says sometimes the cafeteria runs out of food, and he and other adults have been turned away.

“Some American military guys in the Red Cross office, they say we were not prepared. One of them straight away said we were not expecting you guys to come so quickly here, ” A.J. says.

We shared the pictures and A.J.’s story with Fort McCoy.  A spokesman told News 8 Now there was a supply chain issue, but the problems were resolved over the last 96 hours. 

Task Force McCoy sent out a full statement Tuesday morning.

“The health, safety and welfare of all Afghan guests at Ft. McCoy is a top priority for those who are supporting Operation Allies Welcome. The Afghan personnel at Ft. McCoy are receiving housing, medical assistance and culturally appropriate food. The Afghan guests are offered three hot meals per day at assigned dining facilities with options including a protein, carbohydrate option, fruits, vegetables and beverages. Further, Task Force McCoy leaders routinely visit each of the dining facilities to assess conditions and get feedback from the Afghans who dine there. The interagency team at Ft. McCoy continues making improvements and has routinely adapted food options to meet the preferences of the Afghan evacuees, including having 24/7 “grab and go” options available. The task force remains in open dialogue with the Afghan guests.”

Issues of food insecurity are not limited to Fort McCoy. A refugee at Fort Bliss posted this picture to Twitter on Sept. 2. Six days later, and after his picture was shared more than 9,000 times, he said the food and amount of food  improved. 

Back at Fort McCoy, A.J. says he understands the U.S. didn’t have much time to prepare, but forcing refugees to go hungry should never have been an option.

“We worked with them in bad times. We helped the Americans in Afghanistan. So, when we come, we thought they would treat us better than what we are witnessing here, ” says A.J.  

A spokesman for “Operation Allies Welcome” said he will issue a statement. We did get an update from a member of A.J.’s family. A.J. told her he received his first good meal this morning at breakfast.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind writes: “The reports of inadequate food for our Afghan allies at Fort McCoy are concerning. I’m committed to supporting a safe and successful transition for our Afghan partners and their families through Operation Allies Welcome, and I’ll be reaching out to Fort McCoy leadership to follow up and monitor this situation.” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s office said his team is looking into the allegations and will follow up after receiving information from Fort McCoy.

The Red Cross is working with refugees on base, but does not have any part in the meal program. The communications director for American Red Cross of Wisconsin shared this information: About 125 Red Cross volunteers are onsite at Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Camp Atterbury in Indiana and Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst in New Jersey to address evacuees’ basic human needs after their difficult journey to the U.S. Our teams are providing health and mental health services — and making sure people have necessities such as hygiene items, clothing, cribs, diapers and more. Families left critical items behind in the rush to evacuate, so the Red Cross is helping to replace prescription medications, eyeglasses, canes, wheelchairs and other basic items.

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