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Out of Kabul: Air Force Reserve supports massive Afghanistan evacuation operation

Evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport

An aircrew assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron prepares to load qualified evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 21, 2021. (Senior Airman Taylor Crul)

A U.S. Air Force security forces raven and Reserve Airmen assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, maintain a security cordon around a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan, Aug. 24, 2021

A Security Forces Raven maintains a security cordon around a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport. (Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)

A Reserve Citizen Airmen with the Joint Task Force-Crisis Response high fives child after helping reunite their family at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 20. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in Afghanistan

Lt. Col. Shannon Walker, a Reserve Citizen Airman assigned to Joint Task Force-Crisis Response, high fives a child after helping her reunite with her family at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Hundreds of Reserve Citizen Airmen assisted the Department of State with the non-combatant evacuation operations in Afghanistan. (Marine Cpl. Davis Harris)

Reserve Citizen Airmen from across the country played a huge role in one of the largest air evacuations of civilians in American history, supporting the rapid evacuation of thousands of people from Afghanistan in August as part of Operation Allies Refuge.

After Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, the Defense Department rushed to get American citizens, Afghans with special immigrant visa applications in process and other vulnerable Afghans out of the country before the end of the month.

More than 70 Reserve aircrews and hundreds of maintenance, security, medical and support personnel were activated to help ensure the safe passage of Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul to locations around the globe.

In many cases, Reserve Airmen blended into Total Force crews, mixing active duty, Guard and Reserve.

“The United States is the only nation capable of rapidly deploying forces to provide nonstop airlift operations at this scale,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, AFRC commander and chief of the Air Force Reserve. “It would not be possible without the support of our Total Force – active, Guard and Reserve Citizen Airmen – seamlessly integrating to execute the mission.

“Once again, our Air Force Reservists proudly answered our nation’s call, responding in less than 24 hours. I’m overwhelmed with pride as all of our service men and women took care of Americans, our allies and vulnerable Afghans.”

Among the Reserve units that contributed to the evacuation operations were: the 315th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina; the 445th AW, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; the 908th AW, Maxwell AFB, Alabama; the 349th Air Mobility Wing, Travis AFB, California; the 911th AW, Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania; the 452nd AMW, March Air Reserve Base, California, the 446th AW, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, the 512th AW, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and more.

An example of a Reserve unit's participation, the 446th AW deployed aircrews, aeromedical evacuation medics and security forces defenders to execute Operation Allies Refuge.

“The 446th Operations Group has a legacy of supporting history-making operations, and this is no exception,” said Lt. Col. Cynthia Welch, commander of the 446th Operations Group who leads the wing’s aircrew and aeromedical evacuation personnel. “The men and women of the 446th Operations Group take pride in delivering hope to those in need.”

Among the Reserve Citizen Airmen from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, who participated in the evacuation operation were aerial porters from the 80th Aerial Port Squadron.

These Reserve Citizen Airmen are part of a team capable of performing every aerial port function needed to deploy units and ensure cargo is ready to fly at short notice, said Chief Master Sgt. Luis Agredo, 80th APS superintendent.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our Airmen,” said Brig. Gen. Craig McPike, 94th Airlift Wing commander. “An airlift operation of this scale needs the Reserve component. It can only be done with the Total Force."

“Nearly 60% of our mobility capacity resides in the Air Reserve Component, underscoring the importance of a Total Force approach,” said Col. Mark Villacis, chief of AFRC’s Mobility Operations Division. “An airlift operation of this historic magnitude can only be executed with Total Force integration. The partnership between the regular Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve is key to lifesaving non-combatant evacuation operations under extreme conditions we experienced in Kabul, Afghanistan.”

In all, more than 120,000 American citizens, civilian allies, Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and other vulnerable Afghans were taken out of harm’s way between Aug.15 and Aug. 31, all without a major aircraft mishap or accident.

As Operation Allies Refuge ended in August, Reserve Citizen Airmen answered the call to support Operation Allies Welcome, the Department of Homeland Security-led effort to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan for the past two decades, as they safely resettled in the United States.

Reservists supported Operation Allies Welcome activities at locations across the country, including Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey;Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; Dulles International Airport, Virginia; Philadelphia International Airport, Pennsylvania; and others.

At the Philadelphia airport, Maj. Mickael Lewis served as the 439th Contingency Response Element commander. As of Sept. 13, 63 of the 87 people working at the CRE were from the Air Reserve Component.

“We’re responsible for manifesting Afghan guests, unloading, loading and handling military aircraft, providing 24/7 command and control functions, and coordinating with more than 20 military and civilian agencies, including the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Transportation Security Administration to ensure a seamless process,” Lewis said.

“To date, we’ve operated military and commercial flights, welcomed Afghan guests into the United States, and transported many on outbound military flights to various locations around the U.S. The ARC Airmen here are phenomenal. They are truly multi-capable Airmen who, from day one, have acted outside their typical Air Force Specialty Code and have thrived.

“We have Reserve Airmen on the flight line working new aircraft, manifesting Afghan guests, leading teams in separate locations around the Philadelphia area, and professionally interacting with government agencies they’ve never dealt with before. We have Airmen loading aircraft, ramp aerial porters and maintainers manifesting passengers, and command post controllers providing command and control with several airport agencies. It’s truly remarkable to see Reserve Airmen from 14 different units come together and complete this extraordinary mission.” #ReserveReady