A Welcome Home for Afghan Refugees Does Double Duty

Shawn Gliniewicz

An Air Force veteran and Greyshirt reflects on resettling Afghan allies in Colorado, and getting a dose of therapy in the process.

It’s the smallest gestures. Stocking a kitchen cupboard. Hiding surprises for kids I don’t even know. A kind of therapy, in the smallest of gestures. 

I returned from Afghanistan in 2008. I’d spent 22 years in the U.S. Air Force, including nine months embedded with the U.S. Army at Forward Operating Base Clark in Khost Province of Eastern Afghanistan where I was the 911 operator and did battlefield management from the Tactical Operations Center. Much of my time from there is remembered in countless dreams, sleepless nights, and never wanting anything to do with the country or the people again. 

Fast forward to summer 2021 and the chaos of the news sounding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, compounded by the flooding of emotions that many of us experienced for things out of our control. However, a bit of hope appeared as I knew that somehow, Team Rubicon would get involved. 

Having been a Team Rubicon volunteer since 2013, I quickly recognized that when the world goes a bit crazy, I get an email asking me to volunteer and support. Immediately, I threw my name into the arena and started helping a family who had just lost everything resettle. It was a healing step for me that started with a 1.5-ton truck.

As the truck arrived, directions were clear: Family of 12 moving into a Denver suburb, seven kids and five adults. My task: load the furniture, kitchen, beds, and bathroom items and do not forget the couch, vacuum, lamps, bedding, towels, etc.—everything a family would need to start over—plus an excessive number of stuffed animals and toys that “somehow” made it onto the truck.

For me, helping a family escape the chaos of Afghanistan and start over in a suburb of Denver is healing in two ways: First, I am honoring the memory of those who served with me but did not make it home. Second, I am healing myself. I never thought that making a bed, stocking plates, or cleaning a floor could be therapeutic. But, in cooking, cleaning, or creating a new space for someone in distress—whether that’s from a war, tornado, or flood—I am, in the smallest way, serving that person or family. And, by serving, there is a therapeutic reaction in me.  

During the course of the move-in, we even defiantly concealed some stuffed animals in random places all over the house. Those surprises will be putting a smile on a kid’s face long after we have left the building.  

These families, who supported the United States over the last 20-plus years, are now at risk of retribution in their home countries. They have come here seeking normalcy. I hope they find it and thrive in their new communities. Welcome home.

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