ARLINGTON, Va. – National Guard Airmen and Soldiers from around the United States are playing a key role in the historic evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan.
The Air National Guard is contributing to Operation Allies Refuge with 11 C-17 aircraft and 19 crews providing safe passage to Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul to locations throughout the region. In addition, 11 Air National Guard KC-135s and 22 crews are refueling aircraft over the skies of Afghanistan, while pilotless MQ-9 Reapers watch over Afghanistan from the air.
Five Air Guard squadrons are providing lifesaving aeromedical evacuation.
Also, 26 Air National Guard C-130 aircraft and 30 crews are providing transport to evacuees within the United States.
By Aug. 24, the massive airlift by the U.S. military, coalition and partners had accelerated to the point that one aircraft was leaving Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul about every 39 minutes.
About 88,000 American citizens, civilian allies, Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and other vulnerable Afghans have been taken out of harm's way since Aug. 14, Army Maj. Gen. William D. "Hank" Taylor said at a Pentagon briefing today.
During a 24-hour period Aug. 24, he said 42 U.S. military aircraft departed Kabul with 11,200 people and coalition and allied partners flew 7,800 people to safety. Another 10,000 people were at the airport awaiting departure.
"88,000 in the course of just a week, a week and a half is no small feat," Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said at the briefing.
Among those helping transport evacuees is the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, with two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. The aircraft are assigned to the AKANG's 144th Airlift Squadron based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
With the aircraft are three aircrews; one is all ANG (144th AS), one is all active-duty, regular Air Force (517th AS at JBER), and one is a mixed/TFI crew.
The 144th AS will have another all-ANG crew joining the effort within the next week.
“We’re extremely proud of the fact that we have folks supporting this mission,” said Lt. Col. Nathan Schauermann, commander of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 144th Airlift Squadron. “This is the most historic airlift mission we’ve had since Desert Storm in 1991 and is comparable to Operation New Life in Vietnam in 1975. I’m so proud of our personnel for volunteering to go out there at a moment’s notice, and to help with such a significant and imperative mission.”
On the ground in Kabul, the Minnesota and Vermont National Guard are helping secure Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The Minnesota Guard's Task Force 1-194 was positioned to respond because it was mobilized in March to serve as the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Regional Response Force based in Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
Alongside units from the 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, Marine Special Purpose Air Ground Task Force, and Marine Expeditionary Unit, Task Force 1-194 is securing vital sectors of the Kabul airport and providing humanitarian assistance to U.S. citizens, special immigrant visa holders, and their families.
"The Soldiers of Task Force 1-194 were called upon to execute a challenging mission, and they have done so with professionalism," said Army Lt. Col. Jake Helgestad, Task Force 1-194 commander. "They have shown strength, compassion, and resolve despite danger and difficulty."
A small contingent from the Vermont National Guard 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry (Mountain), 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) arrived in Kabul earlier this month to support security operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Additional units from 3-172 IN (MTN) support Special Immigration Visa holders processing through locations within U.S. Central Command.
“Our Soldiers from Task Force Avalanche trained and deployed to support their combatant commander in whatever mission they might be assigned,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, Vermont’s adjutant general. “While we can’t always predict exactly what that mission may look like, I know our Soldiers are ready and will excel in this important humanitarian mission.”
U.S. Central Command is overseeing the evacuation mission in Kabul. Vulnerable Afghans will stay temporarily at U.S. military bases at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Fort Lee, Virginia, while they finalize their immigration processing.
Taylor said today that several thousand evacuees had arrived in the United States, with 1,200 landing at Dulles International Airport outside the nation's capital in the previous 24 hours.
Lt. Col Candis Olmstead, Alaska National Guard; Capt. Charles Anderson and Capt. Andrea Drost, Minnesota National Guard; and Marcus Tracy, Vermont National Guard, contributed to this story.