By Buddy Blouin
The ripple effect of the September 11 attacks was always going to be far-reaching, and the two decades of war in the Middle East bore witness to this. However, even as the U.S. left the area, things needed to be done, and people depended on the world’s most elite fighting force to get the job done. Operation Allies Refuge was a mission signaling a departure from U.S. military presence in the Middle East, but not before rescuing many at-risk groups, including Afghans and American citizens, from harm’s way.

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What Was Operation Allies Refuge?

At the conclusion of the War in Afghanistan, the United States military was tasked with airlifting a variety of groups, including at-risk Afghan civilians and those who were seeking Special Immigrant Visas following violent advancements by the Taliban. This was Operation Allies Refuge. Between July 14, 2021, and August 30, 2021, in two phases, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) helped evacuate at-risk groups in Afghanistan. In addition, efforts from the Marines and Army also helped make the mission a success. Some troops were deployed in Qatar to process SIV applicants. In reflection, a look back at Operation Allies Refuge shows the largest non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in the history of mankind. Primarily conducted in Kabul, Afghanistan, over 123,000 people were rescued and evacuated from the city by the USAF. Sadly, despite being an NEO (Noncombatant Evacuation Operation), there were still casualties incurred due to attacks in the area, as well as panic in the city. This includes a suicide bombing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, stowaways, others killed by stampedes, and smaller firefights. The logistics and heroism that were necessary for Airmen during this time helped save thousands upon thousands of lives. Now, the USAF is going to award some of the most prestigious medals anyone can earn for this harrowing mission.

More Than 100 Medals Were Earned

The collection of non-combatant evacuation operations in Afghanistan known as Operation Allies Refuge would push Airmen and the entirety of the U.S. military to do things it never did before. The Operation Allies rescue was a widespread operation that was made possible by heroism from many individuals. Now, Air Mobility Command (AMC) is looking to provide many medals to those who earned them during the mission. In total, Airmen will be awarded 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 12 Bronze Star Medals, and one Gallant Unit Citation. According to the AMC public affairs office, when an Airman goes “beyond what is normally expected while engaged in direct combat conditions,” a “V” device for valor is added to the medal. A “C” device, standing for combat, is added when an Airman performs meritorious service or achievement while engaging in combat. Out of the 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, seven will be awarded the “V” device, while another 74 will be denoted with a “C” device. Two Bronze Star Medals will also display the “V” device, a medal awarded to those who are heroic or meritorious outside of aerial flight operating against an armed enemy. The 621st Contingency Response Group is being awarded the Gallant Unit Citation for their ability to operate while in a hostile environment - the Hamid Karzai International Airport - which was necessary to keep the Air Force operating. Around 350 awards were approved, and it’s expected that more are following this round of recognition.

Operation Allies Refuge: A Unique Opportunity for AMC

The U.S. honors service members involved in Afghan evacuation from all branches, with other awards involving Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome. Earning an Operation Allies Refuge medal for members of the AMC is a bit unique, as they often act as support for Airmen involved in direct combat. It’s an important role that can often be found behind the scenes, but the work done in the Middle East during Allies Refuge put them in a hostile area, performing daring operations. Operation Allies Refuge would end up being the final mission of the War in Afghanistan and an important part in bringing those the American Armed Forces protected all those years into safety for good.

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The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. Photo by William Lewis Nellis AFB Public Affairs




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