On an oak-lined cul-de-sac in Woodbridge, Virginia, sits an unassuming, two-story brick house with beige siding. Underneath, there is a modest one-bedroom apartment. It is now the home of Ramin Sharifi, an Afghan refugee and former contractor who, on August 16, fled Kabul to come here with his wife and young son.
In the driveway, a U-Haul filled with second-hand furniture has been cleared out, and what was this morning an empty basement, is beginning to look like a home.
“Where is the coffee machine? We need to get them some coffee,” calls Air Force Col. Jennifer Reeves from the side yard. “I know we packed it somewhere.”
Reeves, 51, and her husband Larry, a 54-year-old retired Army colonel, have been working all week to secure a home’s worth of goods to welcome Sharifi, his wife, and their 4-year-old son to America.
“It really just warms the heart,” she tells Military Times.
Sharifi, 31, who is fluent in English, Turkish, Pashtu and Dari worked as contractor, providing various financial services to the U.S. military after graduating from Fatih University in Istanbul, Turkey, with a Master of Business Administration in 2015.
He looks on, arms crossed, smiling, as the Reeves family and their friends, comprised entirely of veterans and military spouses, try to fit a creamy, striped yellow loveseat through the small screened-in side door.
“It’s not going to fit,” Larry says.
They set the couch back down on the small brick patio. Everyone is sweating after a morning of loading and unloading furniture in the 95-degree heat that has subsumed D.C. The group takes a break for water.
“Did you hear about the 200 refugees that are being housed in the high school?” Larry asks.
“It’s not them I worry about. It’s those that are still stuck in Kabul… so many,” says Omid Barakzai, Sharifi’s brother-in-law.
Barakzai has lived in Prince William County for six years after leaving Afghanistan himself. Barakzai, an IT professional, also worked with the U.S. military before coming to America. His oldest daughter, now eight, attends school nearby. She is the only one of his soon-to-be-four children who was born in Afghanistan.
Both he and Sharifi have family trapped in Kabul and Herat.
“My parents, my sister, my brother… my wife’s family, her mother,” Sharifi says adding, “they’re all in Afghanistan and the situation is really bad right now.”
He recalls his homeland before the U.S. military came to Afghanistan — the way that the Taliban came into the country and how hard it made his life during elementary school and thereafter.
“I was in second or third grade, and it was a really difficult time for me, also for my family,” he said. “There was no economy, everything was collapsed. If they are going start up things that they did before, it will be impossible for people.”
Sharifi began the process of getting a Special Immigrant Visa in 2018, and after much delay was evacuated on one of the last planes out of Kabul. He and his family were sent to Doha, Qatar, before being flown to Dallas, Texas. For a week, they lived with Barakzai and his family while awaiting help with housing.
Reeves, who lives in Arlington, was scrolling Facebook over the weekend and saw a friend share information about helping Afghan refugees. Intrigued, she found herself in line with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which is tied to the State Department.
She and Larry were originally assigned to help provide resources for a family of nine moving into a three-bedroom house. By tapping her personal network through Facebook and NextDoor, they had their garage filled woth beds, couches, kitchen ware and toys.
“People came out of the woodwork,” she says. “[They] had been so generous with their with their resources.”
At the last minute, plans changed, and instead of caring for the family of nine, they were connected with Sharifi. At that point, she says, they had more than enough resources and raised thousands in funds, but what they really needed were time and hands to move everything into the home.
It took a few days, but it came together today, and seven volunteers, mostly veterans and their spouses, were able to load everything into Sharifi’s new apartment.
“Everyone has just been incredibly wonderful,” she says. “I spent 27 years in the military thus far. It’s so interesting to be part of a group of people who are being brought together to actually create some very specific goodness. We really do focus on ways to break things and kill people, because we are in the business of warfighting, but this, this is good for the soul.”
Each time a member of the group passes by with remnant small items, like a booster seat for his son or a bag of groceries from the local Halal market, Sharifi and Barakzai thank them for their kindness.
In the bedroom, Sharifi’s wife and son sit on the floor playing with new toys. Amid a number of boxes in the kitchen, Reeves finally finds the coffee pot. She’s elated to be able to place it by a two-burner hot plate that will for now serve as the couple’s stove, gingerly setting it up near a can of Folger’s.
“We make sure that these people can have quality things,” Reeves added. “We want them to be able to build a real life, and unless someone’s getting employed right away, it’s only through the goodness of other people that they are going to be able to continue to improve their status.”
Sharifi, who has already begun looking for work, believes wholeheartedly in the American dream. Even though he has an extensive background in finance and hopes to continue on that path, he said any job he can find will be good.
“I hope that I can find my dream job and grow up the way that I want. And I’m sure that I can get on that stage. Maybe not soon, but in the future.”
He looks forward to trying new foods and learning to drive in America, he said, admitting that the latter makes him somewhat nervous.
“Although I had a car and back in Afghanistan and drove many years, the rules are totally different,” he said. “I have to prepare for the test. I’ve been with my friend in the car, but I haven’t tried yet. I’m excited though.”
His son is thrilled, adjusting well and also eagerly anticipating going to school.
“Every morning he wakes up and he tells me, ‘let’s get into the bus! I have to go, I have to go to school!”
Sharifi plans to sign him up as soon as he’s able, but for now, he and his wife are simply excited to settle into their new home.
“We are happy with the house, we are very comfortable in this house,” he said.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.