Operation Allies Welcome – Employee Spotlight: Ricardo Agosto Castro

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Children watching Ricardo capture photos with his camera.

On Aug. 29, President Biden directed DHS to lead and coordinate efforts across the federal government to support vulnerable Afghans — including many who had worked alongside us in Afghanistan for the past 20 years — as they safely resettle in the U.S.

This mission is known as Operation Allies Welcome.

Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico joint field office External Affairs Deputy Director Ricardo Agosto Castro worked to support Operation Allies Welcome as part of the External Affairs team.

What was your day-to-day experience like on Operation Allies Welcome?

My duties were to identify positive stories and pitch them to local and national media. That meant interacting with the guests and getting to know them, as well as their family. It always amazed me when they shared their journey to the U.S. and all they sacrificed to get here. Each of them was motivated by their dreams of a better future.

Another aspect of my job was to take photos and video of life on base. Not only did I document the guests, but I also highlighted the amazing staff who worked on this historic mission. From the cooking staff to the medical workers, everyone had the same focus and commitment.

In what ways was Operation Allies Welcome like other incidents/disasters? How was it different?

My day-to-day job is working as a Deputy Director for External Affairs in the recovery of Puerto Rico from Hurricane María. At this point in the long-term recovery mission of the island, work is very different from a response. Nothing can really prepare you for the scenes of chaos in a deployment like the Surfside tower collapse in Miami, or the recent tornadoes in Kentucky. I’ve had the opportunity to work in both disasters and they were heartbreaking experiences. With these two very different experiences, I didn’t know what to expect when they requested an External Affairs Officer to serve in Operation Allies Welcome.

Once I got there, I was immediately amazed with the uniqueness and beauty of the mission. Traveling to Fort Pickett in rural Virginia was an adventure on its own. Seeing the number of planning and logistics efforts that went into the operation was impressive. Working hand in hand with our partners in every branch of the military, and all the agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, confirmed the great things we can accomplish when there’s only one objective: in this case, the settlement of our Afghan guests.

What would you consider to be your main takeaways from this experience?

This experience makes you value the quality of life and security we possess. Every guest that I talked to risked their life in one way or another to arrive to the U.S. Many of them escaped only with the clothes they had on. They left behind all they’ve worked for, their homes, their jobs and most importantly, members of their family and were uncertain if they would ever see them again. 

When you are confronted with that reality, you need to be thankful of what you have and the privilege of being a part of history. 

Did anything surprise you when you were working on this mission?

I think the cultural differences always take a bit of an adjustment period. In every mission you’re always mindful of other people’s cultural background. This one required you to always have that sensibility.

Another aspect that I wasn’t expecting was the amount of interaction I had with the children. The staff were encouraged to spend time with them, read them stories, play soccer and even teach them a few words. They also taught me a few of their own, or at least they tried!

I still talk with one family with which I made a special bond. They’ve resettled in Tampa, where they’re raising their two small children. The father sends me pictures of their new home and their new life. In every picture I see them smiling; for me, that’s mission accomplished. 

Ricardo interviewing one of the Afghan guests during Operation Allies Welcome.

Learn more about Operations Allies Welcome in this video, produced by Castro during his deployment. 

Together, thousands of federal staff, servicemembers and volunteers coordinated the arrival of over 74,000 individuals.

DHS staff also worked with partners across the federal government — including the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services — to help in the resettlement.

Visit DHS.gov and Welcome.us to learn more about Operation Allies Welcome.

Ricardo sitting on rocks interviewing someone

 

 

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Last updated April 4, 2022