West Virginia Guardsmen played pivotal role in Afghanistan evacuation missions

West Virginia

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster lll carrying Afghanistan evacuees arrives at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Aug. 22, 2021. NAS Sigonella is currently supporting the Department of Defense mission to facilitate the safe departure and relocation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigration Visa recipients, and vulnerable Afghan populations from Afghanistan. NAS Sigonella’s strategic location enables U.S, allied, and partner nation forces to deploy and respond as required to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa, and Central Command. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. William Chockey)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Soldiers and Airmen of the West Virginia National Guard were critical components of Operation Allies Refuge, the Department of State-led project of evacuating Afghan citizens, which took place prior to the United States’ complete withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, 2021.

The 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston and 111th Engineer Brigade, currently deployed to Kuwait, all provided specialized assistance to this important operation.

Two separate aircrew from the 167th Airlift Wing participated in the transport of passengers and cargo into and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. In total, the Martinsburg-based unit completed 14 sorties over 13 days carrying 37.7 short tons of cargo and 1,224 passengers.

In addition to the pivotal work of the C-17 crews, a team of specialized security forces, known as U.S. Air Force Phoenix Ravens, deployed from the 167th Airlift Wing and 130th Airlift Wing to provide security for the aircraft operating in and out of Afghanistan. Five total Ravens from the West Virginia Air National Guard helped to secure aircraft access on the ground and for the flight crews through flight deck denial procedures that ensured the safe evacuation of personnel out of Afghanistan.

The 111th Theater Engineer Brigade, which is comprised of units from the Active Duty Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard and is commanded by a West Virginia National Guard Soldier, has been the lead unit for all engineer aspects of safe-haven locations in Kuwait and Qatar.

This unit planned and oversaw the construction from the onset of Operation Allies Refuge to include fabricating lodging, medical, dining and in- and out-processing facilities. In addition to the engineer operations, the 111th Engineer Brigade provided command and control, medical, logistical, and public affairs support for more than 5,000 Afghan evacuees.

U.S. Air Force Airmen attached to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III conduct a medical evacuation of evacuees from Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2021. Naval Air Station Sigonella is currently supporting the Department of State mission to facilitate the safe departure and relocation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigration Visa recipients, and vulnerable populations from Afghanistan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrea Rumple)

“I could not be more proud of the work that our West Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen performed during Operation Allies Refuge,” said Brig. Gen. William Crane, Adjutant General of West Virginia. “On top of all the other missions our people are engaged in – from COVID response to Hurricane Ida and wildfires in California, West Virginia Guardsmen stepped up to the challenge and answered the call when needed most. This is what we train for and I know our men and women are full of pride for what they accomplished during such a dangerous and tense operation.”

The West Virginia National Guard is home to more than 6,400 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen in over 60 units and two flying wings throughout the State of West Virginia.

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