When the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan this year, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees came to the U.S., including those who worked alongside American forces over the two-decades-long war. The U.S. evacuated over 65,000 Afghans, and the government is expected to resettle 95,000 Afghan refugees by September 2022. Many of them, who came to the States with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, are now residing in military bases waiting to be processed and resettled.
For this year’s Veterans’ Day, Stern’s Military Veterans Club is holding a clothing and household goods drive for Afghan refugees in Central New Jersey.
Stern is joining other MBA schools, like UC Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and USC to collect donations for their local Afghan refugee bases. The idea for the drive came from Junaid Lughmani, an Army veteran and MBA1 at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Lughmani served as both a Pashto interpreter and an infantry officer in Afghanistan for four years.
After the U.S. withdrawal, Lughmani focused on evacuation and humanitarian relief in Afghanistan. When he learned about the conditions refugees are facing at military installations he wanted to do more.
Calling his four year in Afghanistan transformative, Lughmani said, “After the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, like many in the veteran community, I felt a moral obligation to do anything and everything I could to help the people of Afghanistan.”
Haas’ Veterans Club started a collective drive in Northern California and, after Stanford joined in, Lughmani sought to scale up this initiative and reached out to other schools like Stern.
Lughmani commented, “The minute I spoke with Chris (Meyer ‘22) about the initiative, he was all in. I could sense a goodness in him to want to help Afghans, and for that, he is a brother for life. NYU has been an incredible partner in this effort.”
I sat down with Chris Meyer, the co-president of the Military Veterans Club (MVC), about the importance of this event and his take on the current Afghan refugee crisis.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background and your experiences in the military.
My name is Chris Meyer. I’m an MBA2 going into consulting after graduation. Before Stern, I served 11+ years in the Navy. I was a Naval Aviator and flew the MH-60S multi-mission helicopter. I deployed aboard aircraft carriers with various squadrons all around the world.
Tell us about this event put on by the Military Veterans Club.
I am the co-president, with Bartek Czarnik, of the Military Veterans Club. We decided to participate in a clothing and household items drive for the Afghan refugees who left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August. The event will last the week of November 8th through November 12th at Stern and will continue online via an Amazon Wish List benefitting the “Liberty Village” in New Jersey (more on this below).
How’s it going so far?
It is going well so far. We have had many inquiries from students and faculty at Stern about where and how to donate, and have had a lot of action on the Amazon Wish List. This effort is going to continue online after the physical drop boxes are removed November 12.
How did you come up with this idea for the drive? What was the process?
This drive is a joint effort by several schools across the U.S., spearheaded by Berkeley Haas. We were contacted through the NYU Stern Veteran Alumni Network by a former US Army Officer and current Berkeley Haas student who has roots in both NYC and Afghanistan. He was initiating a clothing and goods drive for about 25 Afghan refugee families in his area in California. I am still in the Navy Reserve, and had just returned from the “Liberty Village” at Joint Base McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst in New Jersey where there are several thousand Afghan evacuees awaiting integration and resettlement into the U.S..
When our brother at Berkeley contacted the MVC and told us his vision, we knew that participating in the effort was the right thing to do. It would allow us to make a direct positive impact on these new American families living half a world away from their home but so close to us in NYC. Through my connection to the Joint Base, I was able to reach out to the charities working with the Department of Homeland Security and get a list of critical items for the Afghans. They provided us with the link to the Amazon Wish List and logistics instructions for our physical donations. So, there was a bit of kismet in that Berkeley reached out, I had just been at the base and had met some of the relief effort coordinators, and that the MVC was ready to jump in and help.
Many vets I know were deployed to Afghanistan. What does this event mean to them?
I participated in the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) air support campaign in 2012, but never deployed directly to Afghanistan. So, I can’t speak to what a veteran with a more direct “boots on-the-ground” connection is feeling. However, I know that this summer was especially difficult for veterans who participated in OEF combat operations. I think all of us, no matter our level of connection to Afghanistan, see this as a chance to continue our service in a small way and to make a positive impact on a community of new Americans. Many of the people who evacuated Afghanistan were interpreters, embassy workers, Afghan National Army soldiers, and others who had worked with the coalition forces. They were and continue to be brave in the face of danger, uncertainty and upheaval. Again, I cannot speak for all of us, but I think many veterans have respect and admiration for the sacrifices these Afghans made for both of our countries and this drive is a small way to show them we care.
Like you said, many veterans have a more personal connection to Afghanistan, what do you think they’d want us to understand about the conflict and Afghan people?
I can’t begin to untangle the Gordian Knot of the GWOT and Afghanistan, but I can tell you that these new Americans are full of the same hope and cautious optimism as were many other generations of immigrants who arrived on our shores. I see it in the faces of the Afghan men playing pick-up soccer with our soldiers, the women practicing their burgeoning English skills and the kids “hanging out” with one of our sailors.
If you wish to participate in the drive please check out the link to the wish list below: