Finding Love, Acceptance, and Hope While Serving Refugees

Ian Cobbs

For Refugee Day, a Greyshirt reflects on serving Afghan citizens resettling in the United States, and the lessons he learned.

Operation Eagle Landing—Team Rubicon’s Afghan refugee resettlement operation—is an operation I still think about to this day. The opportunity to assist in an important situation, such as Afghan citizens resettling in the U.S., isn’t something that comes around often, and I’ll forever be grateful to Team Rubicon for the ability to do so.

I made it to four locations throughout the Operation, the final one being here at home, in the Detroit area.

I arrived at the first location, at Camp Atterbury, IN, with my father, Patrick Cobb. That was a wonderful introduction to the operation itself. Overall, deploying with your father puts everything into perspective. To be where you are, have what you have, and have who you have. Going on any deployment with my father is an honor and a blessing. Now a retired firefighter, my father is the one who brought me in on Team Rubicon, and I enjoy every moment of it with him. 

blankets for refugees
Sorting donations during the resettlement operation.

We were bunked and working in a large area where we would wake, eat, and operate out of. That’s when I learned that the children’s and toddler’s clothing had crazy sizing. We would organize and separate clothing, create outfits, and pack them to be distributed throughout the base. I recall many soccer balls being donated and once we brought them into the base, we were flooded by kids before we were even able to get them from the van into the building to be distributed. You could see the excitement in the eyes of the children… the same children that had just been removed from their homes and brought to a land they had never been before. That is something truly memorable.

My second refugee resettlement deployment was at the Texas-New Mexico border. Our FOB was at Fort Bliss, and we made daily trips to operate out of the Doña Ana Range Complex. 

On this operation, I was assigned the position of liaison. That meant I had the opportunity to work directly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the United States Army. I was also introduced to Save the Children, an organization that I still follow closely and am a big fan of. 

Doña Ana was a completely different experience from Camp Atterbury. While at Atterbury we were largely separated from the refugees we were serving, at Doña Ana, we worked out of a warehouse in the same location where our Afghan brothers and sisters were temporarily housing. Once again, the playfulness of children shined through it all, as they tossed balls around and came to us to pump the balls back up when they were low on air. Still, Doña Ana was an eye-opener. There were playful children here, too, but of the playful children, some were children that had no family and no personal items, still going on each day. If one wasn’t aware of the resilience of children, this operation was a real eye-opener. 

The third location I went to was Fort Lee, VA. There I was a task force leader. We would organize clothing and create clothing kits inside a building within Fort Lee itself. We also accepted supplies, unloading them from semis, and organizing them at an abandoned superstore outside of Fort Lee.

As any Greyshirt will tell you, I met some amazing people on this operation, throughout the states and at the bases. My fellow Greyshirts put in exceptional work with open hearts and accepting arms. There was one Greyshirt who opened up to me about their time serving in the military, and how helping resettle Afghan refugees as part Operation Eagle Landing was an extreme healing opportunity for them. Not only did it help us all in terms of being able to lend a hand to those in need, but it also helped some of us heal old wounds. I found that to be beautiful.

Map of U.S. showing refugee resettlement sites.
The 23 sites where Greyshirts served on resettlement operations.

On my final Eagle Landing deployment I served again with my father. On this deployment, I was both a task force leader and a liaison. We worked out of a warehouse in Ann Arbor, and then at an apartment complex and warehouse in Detroit assisting families in our surrounding area. That consisted of organizing, moving, and placing supplies, furniture, and other household items in the homes these men, women, and children would be living in. One resident was so appreciative of the work that we had done for her and her sons that she kindly cooked a meal for our team from her own kitchen.

Sometimes, I miss the days of Operation Eagle Landing. Yet I know that the farther we get from it, the more life and love our Afghan brothers and sisters get to experience here in the States.

There’s a lot going on in this world—a lot of it hurts my heart—but to see people standing up for what is right and making their voices heard tells me that there is still hope. Greyshirts have always been a big part of that. We all bleed the same color. Love and acceptance are so important. And, I saw that in our work serving so many Afghan citizens making new lives in the USA.


Afghan families resettled

Shortly after the fall of Afghanistan in August of 2021, Team Rubicon began supporting resettlement in the U.S. by providing donation management and other services at military bases designated as safe havens for arriving Afghan refugees. Then, in January of 2022, Team Rubicon launched Operation Enduring Eagle, its Afghan Resettlement program. More than 4,275 Greyshirts helped move Afghan refugees from temporary housing into permanent housing as part of Operation Allies Welcome. In all, Greyshirts helped 853 Afghan families—4,335 individuals—resettle in new homes in the U.S.

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