Serving Again: American Veterans Welcome Afghan Allies

February 23, 2022 By Gretchen Klingler

This post is part of a series on the Heartland Hub highlighting how ordinary Americans across the Heartland have gone above and beyond to help Afghans in need. The series is ongoing as we mark 6 months since the American withdrawal. To protect identities, the Afghan family will not be referred to by name.

As Afghan interpreters, allies, and their families seek refuge in the United States following America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, communities across the nation are answering the call to create a new home for these families who have given up so much. In the Heartland, cities like Columbus, Ohio are leading the way.

Ohio is no stranger to welcoming refugees fleeing global tragedies. In 2019 the state ranked 6th in the nation for refugee resettlement. In 2021, Columbus boasted the largest Bhutanese-Nepali population of any U.S. city and the second largest community of Somali Americans in the United States. Refugees from Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo also call Columbus home.

In early October 2021, Columbus partnered with local organizations and volunteers to welcome another 345 Afghan refugees. Two veterans, Bradley and Chelsea Brincka, felt compelled to join the effort to welcome Afghan allies to Ohio. Bradley, a veteran of the U.S. Army, was already keenly aware of the challenges faced by immigrant and refugee families from his time working with the Yazidi community as part of his current studies at the Ohio State University and past work with NGOs in Iraq. Upon learning there was a need for couples to volunteer, Chelsea, who is still serving on active duty in the Air Force, was excited to join the effort.

Youth Mentorship, Friendship, and Community

The Brinckas were asked to mentor two teenage girls as they navigate the American school system and study a new language. Their father, previously a member of the Afghan National Army, was in extreme danger when U.S. Forces left Afghanistan. In the final days of the withdrawal, the family was lucky to make it aboard one of the last flights out of Kabul.

During weekly visits, the Brinckas have become close with the entire family of nine, with children ranging from toddler to eighteen years old. The mentorship of two quickly turned to nine. Bradley shared, “[The kids] read us books and bring things for us to read. They want to show they’re making progress in their English. These kids are already multi-lingual and speak three languages, and their father speaks four. They’re very self-conscious about their English skills but they’re learning at a remarkable pace, especially the kids.”

The father and mother often welcome the Brinckas for dinner and conversation, alternating between broken English and Dari. With so much uncertainty, Bradley notes that “these relationships are even more valuable for the parents because they don’t have the same socialization opportunities their kids have, like going to school. It gives the family a steady sense of community.”

The Veteran Connection

When the family learned that the Brinckas were veterans as well, they were delighted. Bradley shared, “[The father] is very proud of his service to Afghanistan, even though this is not the outcome he fought for. Of the few items he chose to bring with him in his duffle bag, one item was his Afghan Army uniform. He holds it almost reverently as he shares his military stories with us, drawing out battles on paper for us to understand. He enjoys having this connection with us, and it’s clear our service makes him feel more welcome to share his own.”

The Brinckas join military veterans all over the country who feel called to serve those who served the United States’ cause in Afghanistan. In Columbus, the Brinckas’ service both in the military and to their community have made all the difference to this one Afghan family and have given America’s allies hope for a brighter future in Ohio.