Wisconsin lawmakers react as military prepares to relocate Afghan refugees to Fort McCoy

FORT MCCOY, Wis. – Fort McCoy, located on about 60,000 acres of land in Monroe County between Sparta and Tomah, is primarily used for training but may soon take on a new objective.

For the first time in four decades, the military base is preparing to potentially house thousands of refugees.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Fort McCoy is preparing to take in an unknown number of special immigrant visa applicants fleeing Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover. A Fort McCoy spokesperson told the news outlet that they’re prepared to provide housing, food and medical care.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the Department of Defense will potentially relocate up to 30,000 Afghan SIV applicants into the US. Kirby said that Fort Bliss in Texas along with Fort McCoy in Wisconsin have the capability to house these applicants.

Much of the state is watching as chaos unfolds in Afghanistan, including thousands rushing the tarmac at the Kabul Airport in hopes of fleeing. Wisconsin Republicans and Democrats are weighing in.

“By now you’ve all likely seen tragic images and videos coming out of Afghanistan,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican, said in a video posted on Twitter. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s a massive intelligence failure, operational failure.”

Sen. Ron Johnson joined fellow Republicans in casting blame on President Joe Biden, calling it an “unmitigated disaster” and saying in a statement that “There might have been a way to withdraw – this obviously isn’t it.”

Democrat Sen. Tammy Baldwin said keeping military in Afghanistan with no end in sight would be the wrong decision, writing “Right now, our primary focus should be the safe departure of U.S. personnel and the Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support our mission. We should also do everything we can to provide humanitarian aid and resettlement assistance for Afghan refugees, women, and children.”

Some politicians from both sides do come together on one focus: getting Afghan partners out of the country and out of danger.

“Right now we need to work to get people out of there,” Gallagher said.

Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman brought up Afghan translators, writing “I hope they are not forgotten, as we owe it to these interpreters to protect them from the retaliation the Taliban is waiting to serve.”

“At this time I’m also deeply concerned for the safety of our Afghan partners, who served alongside our troops and put their lives on the line to support our mission. We cannot abandon them now – every effort must be made to ensure their safety,” Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat, writes in a statement. “As we wait for further details regarding this ongoing situation, I have full confidence in our outstanding service members at Fort McCoy and stand ready to work with local, state, and federal leaders to assist however possible.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Fort McCoy has housed a large number of refugees, but it would be the first time in a long time. In 1980 the military base took in about 14,000 refugees from Cuba as they fled during Fidel Castro’s rule.

Exactly how many refugees and the timeline on arrival is still unknown.

News 3 Now reached out to Fort McCoy, along with local officials, for comment but have not heard back.