Charlotte Richter | Staff Writer
Three local Army and Air Force Exchange Service associates volunteered with Operation
Allies Welcome, also known as Operation Allies Refuge, to aid refugees from Afghanistan at Fort McCoy, Wis., in September and October.
Former Fort Leavenworth Post Exchange employee and now active-duty 2nd Lt. Dominiq Jones, Fort Leavenworth PX Administrative Assistant Stephanie Rivera and Fort Leavenworth PX Shift Assistant Courtney Davis each volunteered for temporary duty travel to Fort McCoy to help with the mission.
OAW/OAR is a Department of Homeland Security initiative meant to assist refugees with
integration and resettlement through U.S. military facilities. Following arrival, guests were provided with temporary housing on one of eight Department of Defense installations.
According to the DHS website for OAW, “While on these bases they (refugees) will also
complete medical screening and receive other medical services, be able to apply for immigration status and work authorization with (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) personnel, and be connected to relocation services.”
Jones heard about the opportunity by word of mouth as a central checkout cashier. During his stay at Fort McCoy Sept. 4-19, he said he served wherever he was needed, including duties stocking stores, mobile field exchange operations and crowd control.
Jones said he learned commitment to service from his family.
“Even when everything on your own plate or in your own personal life is done, there’s always some way you can go and help out someone in need. From a service point of view that was really enlightening.”
Jones received an award following his return to Fort Leavenworth in recognition of his contributions and leadership during his volunteer service. He said he owes his efforts to the team-work between himself and other volunteers at Fort McCoy during busy moments in which they found opportunities for improvement outside of their department responsibilities.
Rivera also heard about the opportunity to volunteer through word of mouth. Rivera said support from the Fort Leavenworth PX allowed her to volunteer at Fort McCoy Oct. 3-17.
Rivera said the Exchange at Fort McCoy is smaller than the stores the military community is used to at installations nationwide, so volunteers took on many of the responsibilities across all of the departments. She said her duties were primarily stocking and cashiering, but she also learned about cultural and religious preferences for certain products and communicated suggestions using Google Translate.
“There were people from all different kinds of jobs and backgrounds. I think one of the coolest things I ever got to witness, we sold a lot of things, but we sold suitcases. Seeing a suitcase go through my register was really rewarding, because I knew that meant they were either super close to being sponsored out or they had plans to leave,” Rivera said.
She said she’d ask about the refugees’ plans and enjoyed hearing about their plans to transition, meet family or go to college.
“It was so amazing to be able to hear them say ‘these are my plans, I might not be here next week’ and that’s the end goal.”
Rivera and Daniels worked with each other during the end of Rivera’s TDY, and they shared a similar experience with customer service. Daniels said she helped guests answer questions about U.S. culture and count for young children learning about U.S. currency.
Daniels has worked in the military clothing department for about 10 years, and she said she took the opportunity to try something new. She volunteered at Fort McCoy from Sept. 27 to Oct. 10, also stocking and working as a cashier. Daniels said the significance of her experience came from guest interactions.
“Just showing humility to people in a different situation than I am … seeing their faces, you know, they still smiled, they were still respectful, and still thanked us for our service,” Daniels said. “It’s being there for them. For them, just to start over, it
can be a lot.”