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Reliving her past, building futures with Task Force-Holloman

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kenneth Boyton
  • Task Force-Holloman Public Affairs

“It must be an April fool’s joke,” the then 16-year old girl thought to herself as her mom talked on the phone. It had to be one of their friends playing a prank on them.

The girl and her family waited for two and a half years to get the call, but to get it on April Fools Day, it just HAD to be a joke.

It wasn’t.

After escaping Iraq and seeking refuge in Jordan, the family was going to be able to live in the United States.

“I came to the U.S. in 2009 with my family as refugees during Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Senior Airman Israa Peel, Task Force-Holloman linguist deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. “When we got the call, my mom kept asking the agent questions to make sure this is not a fake or a spam call. We still didn’t believe them until they gave us the acceptance letter at the agency the next day.”

Peel, her parents and younger brother had 19 days to pack their life into two suitcases. Two days later, Peel and her family started their journey to Glendale, Arizona.

“The trip was long and exhausting,” she said. “We flew from Amman, Jordan, on April 19, 2009 to Frankfort, Germany, then Chicago and San Francisco before landing in Phoenix. We didn’t get to the states until April 22.”

Peel said that she can relate to the Afghan evacuees who are temporarily living at Aman Omid Village on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. From traveling for days, to experiencing the culture shock and having to learn English, Peel experienced it all.

That’s part of the reason she decided to join TF-H.

“When I heard about the Afghans coming to Holloman, I was stoked,” Peel said. “Before I even knew any details, I wanted to hop on this resettlement mission. Something in my bones was telling me to go.”

Besides getting to help others that are in the same precarious position she was in years ago, Peel was excited to join the task force since her brother and husband were both going to be there too.

“My brother is permanent party at Holloman, and my husband was going to deploy here too,” said Peel. “It’s the perfect first deployment for me because I can finally do what we all joined the military for, to give back as a family and help those who need help.”

Since she arrived, Peel mainly worked on cultural logistics, such as helping create a prayer area in the main processing center.

“I also work with other linguists to create signs and ways to communicate with the Afghans, and to provide other services that they need within our realm of language and cultural expertise,” Peel added.

Helping the Afghan evacuees has been rewarding to not just Peel, but to everyone around her.

“I feel the mission here is filled with amazing people that are chosen by their home base leadership and the universe to be here,” she said. “Everyone has brought something unique to the table to make this mission a success. I’m super happy for our guests here, this is a new beginning for them and their families.”

As Peel in-processed Afghans and spent more time with them at the village, the experiences brought back memories of her time coming to the U.S.

“These people will remember you, the same way I remember the Airmen and Soldiers that were nice to me and my family in Iraq,” Peel said. “They will remember your kindness and interaction with them. Who knows, maybe some of these kids will be working under your leadership in couple of years!”

Peel added that the smallest things can make the largest impacts. Helping serve food, playing with the children, handing them a bottle of water and even a friendly smile can put someone who may be frightened, at ease.

Most of these families are looking at an uncertain future, having to start all over, start with what they could carry with them as they quickly left their homes.

“Nothing we do here will go to waste,” said Peel. “Take it from someone who remembers some of the nice Soldiers’ faces. These kids, these families will remember you and be forever grateful!”