ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — John Kellner, the 18th Judicial District attorney and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, recently deployed to Fort Pickett in Virginia to help settle Afghan refugees.
In the U.S., 34,000 Afghan refugees are still currently living on military bases. Kellner spent 35 days at Fort Pickett, serving as a liaison officer between the military and the other organizations trying to help the refugees there.
“I think like most everybody, I didn’t know what to expect,” Kellner said. “Watching that, seeing people fall from planes, hit really close. When the opportunity came up where I was able to do something and help these folks, our allies, resettle and join our country, I jumped at it,” Kellner said.
“I’m speaking for myself, not for the DOD or for the Marine Corps,” Kellner added.
Kellner said he did not travel in his capacity as a prosecutor or attorney.
“I was just there as an officer trying to do the best I could, and that’s really the same for everybody there,” Kellner said. “There was almost no one doing the job that is their day-to-day job. There were some folks really stretching themselves just because they wanted to help. Trying to do whatever they could to make this transition and resettlement process a little easier for our Afghan allies.”
Kellner said there were thousands of children, and service members would try to help them pass the time with things like reading, storytelling and toy drives. He said the people there were incredibly grateful.
“They are so grateful. They just soak up everything,” Kellner said. “I’m looking forward to the time those kids grow up. They’re our neighbors down the street from us. Because they really appreciate everything our country has to offer. Incredible gratitude to be in a place where they are not worried about the Taliban knocking on their door at night and killing them or their family members. That is real, that is something they value and appreciate the opportunity to be here.”
Kellner said many of them came to the U.S. with one bag, or with just the clothes on their back, leaving a country they called home.
“Now they are in a strange place trying to find their way. That’s really tough for anybody, much less those that have suffered the trauma, in and around the bombing,” Kellner said.
This was personal for Kellner. He said he served in Afghanistan in 2010, “during the surge with Regimental Combat Team 7.
“They are our allies,” Kellner said. “They helped us, whether it was translation services, going out on combat patrols with us, talking to locals, whether they were Afghan police, army, pilots — there are so many people who supported our mission in Afghanistan.”
He is proud to have been there to welcome some of them to our country.
“It brought some closure, some feeling we were doing what we could do help these people, help our allies, welcome them to our country. It gave me some confidence we are on the right track,” Kellner said.
He is not sure if he will be activated again, but he is interested in supporting organizations helping refugees who make it to Colorado.
“There’s just so much we can do as a community to welcome these people who stood by us in the toughest of times, who are our allies, and show them what America is all about,” Kellner said.