ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam, Sept. 17 -- The first wave of U. S.-bound Kurdish refugees was to step off a chartered plane Tuesday night, entering a mammoth concrete B-52 bomber maintenance hanger set up for their arrival. The hangar, filled with rows of chairs and banks of tables, includes a partitioned child care area strewn with pillows, dolls, crayons and Pampers. It will be their first step towards a new life in the United States for 2,075 Kurds expected to arrive before week's end. Many of the refugees have already served the United States for as much as five years. 'These are U.S. government employees and their families,' Maj. Gen. John Dallager, 13th Air Force commander and head of operation Pacific Haven, said at a press briefing Tuesday morning. Dallager said he worked in northern Iraq several years ago with some of the same people who will be arriving at Andersen. 'I trusted my life to some of these people,' Dallager said, adding the lives of the refugees would have been in danger had they remained in Iraq in light of the escalation of hostilities between Iraq and the United States, which bombed Iraqi military installations in the south in retaliation for an Iraqi army incursion into a primarily Kurdish area in the north of Iraq. 'We want to welcome them as members of the U.S. community,' Dallager said. Dallager said the base had just 48 hours notice to prepare for the Kurds arrival, but because Andersen is a contingency support base, many of the things that are necessary to handle such an influx of people are in place.
'Our mission is to receive and bed down people.' In this case, it will be 2,075 Kurdish men, women and children, he said. In 1975, 100,000 Vietnamese refugees passed through Guam during Operation New Life. Guam's Air Force and Navy facilities became tent cities filled with refugees. When Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines exploded, more than 1,000 Filipinos who worked at U.S. military facilities there were brought to Andersen for safety. At Andersen South, a housing annex 3 miles from the main base, Air Force and Navy Seabee construction crews worked feverishly Monday and Tuesday readying what will be the Kurds' temporary home for up to three months. Col. J. Mike Deloney, 36th Air Base Wing commander at Andersen, said the annex still held a few Air Force families a few weeks ago. But because the base already planned to move all Air Force personnel onto the main base by the end of this fiscal year, most personnel housed there had already moved out. 'The timing worked out perfectly,' Deloney said. Dallager said about 250 of the new arrivals worked for the United States in Iraq, mostly in humanitarian support of other Kurds. The rest are immediate or extended family members. A total of 600 adult males, 650 adult females, 600 children and 120 infants and toddlers will arrive by Thursday, Dallager said. 'Our goal is to transition them to a normal routine,' Dallager said, adding that although the Kurds will not be permitted to leave their housing area, they will be encouraged to set up their community as they wish. The refugees will be photographed and given housing assignments, cleared by all necessary agencies, given identification cards, and moved to the housing annex where cots, blankets, pillows and toothbrushes await in two- and four-bedroom concrete, air-conditioned duplexes, fourplexes and eightplexes. The homes, smelling of pine cleaner, are empty except for the cots and noncombatant kits of personal hygiene items from the military and the Red Cross. The cots fill the bedrooms and living and laundry areas. Each extended family is expected to live in one home. Air Force officials said they enlisted the help of local Muslims to ensure sensitivity to cultural, religious and dietary differences. Behind a row of duplexes, Navy and Air Force men and women laid wooden flooring for a tent mosque facing Mecca to enable the Kurds to worship in their faith. Dallager said all the Kurds were pre-screened before leaving Turkey, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Department of Justice would process the new arrivals' applications for asylum, which should take from 60 to 90 days. In the meantime, the Kurds will be required to remain on the base annex and contact with local residents will be minimized. Dallager said the Kurds weren't held in Turkey until their asylum requests were handled because the Turkish government requested the Kurds be processed as 'expeditiously as possible.'