Local Folks: Jon Singleton

Local Folks: Jon Singleton
Jon Singleton in an Afghan refugee village

Jon Singleton is a San Marco resident. He’s known by many as a successful Watson realtor. But Singleton has a much higher calling than this.

He spent eleven years in the Navy Reserves, following ten years of active duty. He retired a decade ago and is a civilian now. In 2006, while a Reserves member, Singleton was called to Afghanistan during the 20-year war, when America retained a military presence in the country. “I was embedded with the Afghans. I spent every day with them. I lived on a coalition base. Every day, I would walk out the gate to the Afghan side and mentor a couple of the colonels there,” he said. Singleton forged personal relationships. And though he’s been back in America since 2007, he still maintains connections there.

In August 2021, the US withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan, leaving behind American citizens and Afghan allies. Armed Taliban fighters swiftly took over key parts of the country and are hunting down these people, raiding their homes, torturing and killing them and their families as retribution for assisting Americans in their two-decade attempt to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists.

Since last August, many of the Afghans who had helped Singleton and other Americans and their allies on their mission there have been contacting him, wondering if he can help. They need assistance navigating the paperwork process to obtain visas so that they can legally get out of the country. These people include interpreters and translators, among others, who worked closely with US forces. Many are Afghans who risked their lives to help the Americans’ mission. Many of them are sponsored by the soldiers they had worked with.

According to Singleton, the requests actually began even before the big pull-out. So, he reached out to folks he had initially served with to see what, together, they might be able to do. Singleton has gotten involved with a network of volunteer veterans like himself who are determined to make a difference, to mitigate human suffering, to keep the promise made to bring out those who helped Americans in their war efforts. The volunteer group call themselves Task Force Pineapple, the fruit having been the original password used to identify safe people at gates and checkpoints in an operation similar to that of the Underground Railroad used by abolitionists in the 1800s. The evacuation efforts have been dubbed “digital Dunkirk,” harkening back to a similar WWII mission to evacuate parts of Europe.

Singleton’s efforts have involved posting pleas on social media, asking his fellow veterans, friends, and family members for funding to help people escape Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Last year, Singleton raised $25,000, which he sent to Kabul, the capital city, through a covert financial network so that some people could get out. So far, Singleton himself has been responsible for the escape of 41 people. Of them, 26 are stranded in a third country now, still not having made it to American safety, still not having made it through the visa process. “I am grateful though that of the 26 still stuck, at least they’re no longer being hunted,” Singleton said. Their applications are in, but the paperwork is stuck in processing.

Jon Singleton with Afghan refugee children
Jon Singleton with Afghan refugee children

Of the 100,000 or so people who have attempted to apply for the special visa set up for those fleeing persecution, only 2% have been approved thus far. Singleton is part of another group that communicates with members of Congress, the State Department, and Immigration Services to help expedite the visa process. Those who have already made it to the US can wait for the long process. Singleton and his group lobby on behalf of the people still trapped in Afghanistan and surrounding locales. These are people who qualify for existing visa programs, but the American government is having a hard time processing the backlog. These are people who did not want to leave their country until the legal process was complete. But it’s unsafe now to wait.

According to Singleton, Iran and Pakistan are the only two countries that accept Afghan refugees; however, they are countries that often turn the refugees back over to the Taliban. So, not all Afghans are safe in those countries either. “If we can get the Afghans to the US, there is another set of support services to help them. Jacksonville has an amazing community that has taken in refugees for the last hundred years,” Singleton said.

Since the US decided to officially withdraw from Afghanistan, it has been mainly volunteer groups of American veterans who are actively trying to save their friends, as they promised they would. This has led to another issue that’s been re-surfacing of late—veterans with mental health issues. “I’ve been on a 911 call for a year,” Singleton said. He and others in his various associations receive desperate messages daily, asking for help to escape the unthinkable—rape, murder, and more.

“Everything we’re doing is through secure communications,” Singleton said. Traditional social media is unsafe to use. “I’m trying to help keep them motivated and alive.” That humanitarian work is in addition to his lobbying on their behalf, hoping to make a difference in the facilitation of the backlog of paperwork.

Singleton wants the public to know how veterans are struggling with two broken promises—the promise of the American government to its allies and the promise of military personnel to the people who helped keep them alive while overseas through attacks and explosions. Vets consider it a violation of a moral code to leave behind their war partners, and they’re going through some trauma right now.

“I greatly appreciate all the support from the community. Some has been financial. Some has been moral support and encouragement,” Singleton said. He’s grateful, too, to his realty team for allowing him to spend the time and energy that he has on these matters for the past year.  

“Our focus is trying to help people because everyone deserves a safe home,” Singleton said.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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