Local News

Fort Bragg Soldiers Help Refugees Settle Into Village Life

Posted May 6, 1999

— Hundreds of ethnic Albanians forced to flee Kosovo have found refuge in the United States thanks, in part, to soldiers from Fort Bragg. Local troops are in Fort Dix, NJ turning the Army reserve post into a makeshift home.

"We didn't know really what to expect from the people," saysFort BraggPfc. Royston Belfon. "And then they came out looking all happy and smiling at us. So it made us feel like we are here doing something good."

Although they came to Fort Dix with just the clothes on their backs, most of the Albanian refugees are happy to be here, and they are especially thankful for the Fort Bragg soldiers who have helped provide them with food, clothing and housing.

"It gives you a good feeling inside, you know, you're helping somebody else out in need. They've lost everything," says Spc. Darren Dinneen. "To see the smiles on their faces, the kids playing with toys and stuff, it's a nice thing."

Several hundred Fort Bragg soldiers were sent here because they have extensive training in creating camps like this one. And although most of the refugees cannot speak English, they are still able to communicate with the soldiers.

"They're smiling, waving, saying 'hi,' using hand gestures and signals," says Sgt. Maurice Sander. "We have a couple of translators in the building, so communication is pretty easy."

Interpreters say the refugees are asking many questions.

"From the people in the village, the most common questions are 'How long are we going to be able to stay here?' 'Will we be able to stay in America or are you going to send us back?' 'Is anybody going to attack us?' says interpreter Jafer Meta.

Another plane carrying 400 refugees arrived late Friday afternoon. Almost 1,000 refugees now call Fort Dix home.

Another 1,000 refugees are due in next week. The camp can handle up to 3,000 refugees, and it is expected to be full in the next few weeks.

"The preparations in the dormatories are underway," says Fort Bragg Maj. Tom Moyer. "The battalion is doing a fantastic job. The morale is high. They understand the importance of this mission, not only for the refugees, but for the American people to open up our arms and welcome them."

The Albanian children smile and wave at most passersby. They are happy to be in America with food, shelter and clothing, and the Fort Bragg soldiers have quickly become their best friends.

"Overseas in the Balkans when the kids would see the uniforms, they would be very scared," says refugee Llir Hoxha. "But now, they feel very comfortable, especially when they see the U.S. military playing with the children."

Immigration officials began interviewing refugees Friday for processing purposes. Refugees will also have to undergo background checks and medical exams. WRAL'S David Crabtree and Pam Saulsby will host a special program Saturday night, "Crisis in Kosovo: North Carolina Reaches Out." During the program, learn how you can make a difference, Saturday at 7 p.m.


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