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Fort Lee is one of several locations supporting the initiative by the Department of Defense to provide transportation, temporary housing, medical screening and general support for over 50,000 Afghan evacuees in permanent or temporary structures.

PRINCE GEORGE, Va -- Providing religious accommodation for Afghan evacuees has become a key contribution the chaplain team at Fort Lee has made to Operation Allies Welcome.

Fort Lee is one of several locations supporting the initiative by the Department of Defense to provide transportation, temporary housing, medical screening and general support for over 50,000 Afghan evacuees in permanent or temporary structures.

“Right away, we knew the Afghan evacuees would need a place for worship and prayer, and they predominantly practice the Islam religion,” said Col. Thomas E. Allen, the installation’s senior command chaplain, in a release. “The area had to be suitable for daily prayer, which is an important part of their faith.”

The Religious Support Office at the base has worked with entities such as the Directorate of Public Works, Mission Integrated Contracting Command - Fort Lee and Logistics Readiness Center - to establish a tent (with separate areas for men and women) with air conditioning and required carpeted flooring for an Islam place of worship.

“We don’t have an Imam on post, so I consulted with the two senior Muslim chaplains in the Army Chaplain Corps as well as the local Imams in the surrounding community,” Allen said. “With their expertise, we came up with a plan to best facilitate the religious needs of the Afghan evacuees.”

Allen also pointed out how the community has made America’s new arrivals feel welcome with offers of support since the announcement of evacuees coming to Fort Lee including support from local church groups, commercial businesses and individuals.

“I had already spoken to some of the State Department’s non-government officials, mostly translators, who had expressed a need for coloring books and crayons for the kids,” Allen said. “I suggested putting together a list of items they needed so we could give it to people who were calling us to ask how they could help.”

Traction of needed items grew on social media. Allen estimates the base has averaged five-to-six truckloads a day – most of which coming from local mosques, churches and Islamic centers. Groups of about 25 volunteers have worked to sort and package the items.

“The feedback we’re receiving daily is that they’re very appreciative and grateful,” said Allen, who then shared one particularly heartwarming account. “Within the last few days, there was a family who had a very young infant, maybe three or four months old, and the mother was carrying this baby everywhere. I got word from the NGOs that they were asking for a stroller, and some Soldiers told me a few had been donated, so that family got what they needed. The mom could finally put the baby down, and they were overjoyed. They kept saying ‘thank you, thank you,’ and they were so appreciative. Those kinds of responses are happening every day.”

Those with questions about items requested on behalf of Afghan evacuees at Fort Lee can call the RSO at (804) 734-6494. A listing of organizations supporting the resettlement effort is available at AfghanPartnerships@state.gov. Similar information is available at www.wrapsnet.org.