COLCHESTER, Vt. – When Vermont National Guard Spcs. Ryan Moon and Riley Benoit deployed to Southwest Asia with Task Force Avalanche, the mortarmen did not anticipate a 12-day mission in Afghanistan, taking part in the evacuation of thousands as part of Operation Allies Refuge.
Orders to move to Afghanistan came suddenly. When the call came, the mortar platoon was conducting live-fire training in Southwest Asia.
“Fifteen Soldiers went from our platoon, two medics and additional mortarmen from Colorado, Maine and Rhode Island units departed for Afghanistan,” Moon said about what happened Aug. 17.
Moon said Soldiers prepared their gear before official orders came down.
“Across the board, everyone brought their sleep system, a couple of sets of uniforms, several MRE’s, and individual weapons,” said Moon.
“We departed our base in a C-17 transport aircraft packed full of gear and troops for the four-hour flight,” Benoit recalled.
Arriving at Kabul International Airport early Aug. 18, the Soldiers spent the night in an airplane hangar they would call home for the next two weeks.
The next day, mortarmen took up defensive positions in another airport building and began to patrol their sector of the airport.
“We patrolled the same streets and northern section of the airport’s perimeter wall for the remainder of our time in Kabul,” said Benoit. “Some days, you would be in a tower on the wall and could see daily life in the city. Other days you were walking some of the inner roads of the airport among the refugees.”
The Guardsmen had additional duties throughout their time providing security for the withdrawal.
“We’d go and clear buildings of weapons, ammunition, and other sensitive items so they would not fall into Taliban hands,” Moon said.
An average day consisted of waking up at about 1 a.m. and providing security until around 9 a.m., patrolling in half-hour shifts.
After 12 days at Kabul Airport, U.S. military forces departed Afghanistan Aug. 29.
“I never expected this sort of mission in my military career,” Moon said. “I’m glad I was able to help secure safe passage for some of those who have helped us over the past two decades and their families. I believe we performed our duties well and were good ambassadors of our country and our unit.”
”There was a lot of emotions getting on the C-17 to fly out of Afghanistan,“ he said. ”Knowing that it was the last day of a war for us that has been going on for most of my life was a very humbling experience. I will never forget how it felt when the plane left the ground.”