Dover AFB delivers during Operation Allies Refuge

  • Published
  • By Roland Balik
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, contributed to the largest noncombatant evacuation operation mission in history, Operation Allies Refuge, Aug. 15-30, 2021.

During the two-week operation, aircrews from the 3rd Airlift Squadron flew more than 90 missions in the C-17 Globemaster III, transporting over 7,000 passengers and more than 200 pallets of cargo.

While aircrew were told to expect the unexpected, the scale of OAR wasn’t fathomable to the aircrews until just before landing in Qatar.

“We delayed in Germany for one crew rest cycle, [and] by the time we got to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, there were something like 40 airplanes on the ground,” said Maj. Josh Short, 3rd AS pilot and assistant director of operations. “I’ve never seen that many C-17s in one place.”

Short and his crew departed Qatar for Harmid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, carrying more than 400 people out of the country during their first set of missions.

“What I kept telling my crew was this is the worst day of most of these people’s lives,” Short said with emotion. “So anything we can do, however small it is to make it better, we’ve done our job.”

After a short flight back to Al Udeid AB, buses transported passengers for several hours to a processing center. The aircraft’s air conditioning system kept the cargo compartment at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which was significantly more tolerable than the outside temperature of 115 degrees.

Loadmasters kept passengers hydrated and calm during the lingering process, interacting with families and playing games with kids during the wait.

“Really, passenger service was our primary duty as a loadmaster. I was making paper airplanes and throwing them once the cargo compartment got a little more cleared out,” Tech. Sgt. Clinton Phillips, 3rd AS loadmaster, said when asked how he interacted with children. “All you’re doing at that point is trying to keep them hydrated and calm while they wait for several hours.”

In total, the Air Force evacuated 124,334 people, which included U.S. citizens in addition to vulnerable Afghans.

“I’m extremely proud of the Airmen of the 3d Airlift Squadron for their contributions to this historic operation,” said Lt. Col. Zane Hershey, 3rd AS commander. “The impressive capabilities of the C-17 pale in comparison to the professionalism, flexibility and expertise of our [3d AS] Royals, who ultimately drove mission success. The love and dedication for complete strangers I witnessed out there will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Other units, including the 436th Maintenance Group, 9th Airlift Squadron and 436th Security Forces Squadron Ravens deployed in support of OAR.

More than 50 maintenance personnel deployed to various locations including Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, to support the U.S. Army units, and Al Udeid AB, to support U.S. Central Command requirements.

The 9th AS deployed five members to support U.S. Air Forces Central to manage flights and serve as squadron aviation resource management specialists. Three others deployed to various stateside locations to assist in reception of vulnerable Afghans.

“It will be a mission that will stick with me the rest of my life,” said Short. “It was definitely rewarding to be part of it and seeing everyone coming together, from the bottom to the top, and work to get as many people out as possible.”