501st CSW supports Operation Allies Refuge

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

Pathfinder Defenders returned home to the 501st Combat Support Wing after providing support to Operation Allies Refuge at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Sept. 16, 2021.

For the past three-and-a-half weeks, Airmen from the 423rd and 422nd Security Forces Squadrons, the 501st CSW Chapel team, and other units volunteered to support one of the largest airlift in U.S. history. Together with many others, they ensured the success of a mission that evacuated 123,000 people from Afghanistan.

“When we were initially tasked to come out here, we had really short notice,” said Master Sgt. Paul Strick, 422nd SFS interim first sergeant and noncommissioned officer in charge of installation deployment readiness cell (IDRC). “We’ve been working 12-hour shifts every day since we got here, with limited time off. However, no matter how tired everyone is, everyone is happy to wake up and come in.”

Airmen from the 501st CSW chapel integrated with Ramstein’s chapel team and supported the religious and spiritual needs of the evacuees, Airmen, Soldiers, joint allied forces and volunteers. The team provided stewardship for 16 mosques, supplied over 500 prayer rugs, assisted with trash pickup and food distribution and delivered refreshments to workers and volunteers. They also provided counseling and guidance to Airmen in dealing with and metabolizing all their experiences from a cultural and religious perspective.

“We provided a call to prayer via Comms five times a day, organized a Jumah service led by a local imam on Fridays, and set up and furnished prayer tents with prayer rugs and directions in Arabic,” said Chaplain Capt. Steven Davis, 501st CSW chaplain services. “The Ramstein Muslim Chaplain provided advisement on cultural and religious sensitivities, as well as ensuring halal requirements for food were met.”

Defenders provided security, assisted with medical transport, played with children, handed out donations and much more. Many spoke about the connection they experienced while playing with the children and interacting with the evacuees.

“Since I’m a mom, I really feel for the parents and their little babies,” said Tech. Sgt. Chelsea Reynolds, 423rd SFS flight sergeant. “I couldn’t imagine going through this. The other day we were handing out baby formula, diapers and kids clothes. Seeing their smiles is really meaningful to me.”

The 422nd SFS from RAF Croughton joined the 423rd SFS team Aug. 23, 2021, on RAF Mildenhall, England, before departing to Ramstein for the next 25 days. The 26 Defenders had little notice, but had trained to be ready at a moment’s notice.

The 501st CSW Public Affairs team also supported operations at Ramstein. Some 422nd and 423rd SFS Defenders shared glimpses of their experiences and most memorable moments:

“That is something I’ll probably never forget. I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave everything you know, have no idea where you’re going, have only a bag packed and your family, and just trust the folks whose care you’re in to get your new life started again. I have been in the military 17 years. This is probably one of the [most] meaningful things I’ve ever done in my entire military career. This has been an amazing opportunity.” – Master Sgt. Strick

“My most memorable moment will be seeing all of our Airmen, Soldiers, Allied and volunteers work back breaking shifts consistently in order to provide opportunities at freedom to those evacuating Afghanistan. I especially enjoyed getting to know the many defenders sent from England since I recently arrived to Alconbury.” – Capt Davis

“While providing security, I was given the opportunity to interact with the Afghan community. They have taught me their language, their cultural dances and even their love for sports. Seeing the smiles on people’s faces, who have endured a lot, makes me very happy to know they are safe.” – Senior Airman Hunter Laboy, 422nd SFS noncommissioned officer in charge of police services and quick reaction force.

“My most memorable experience was working with our Airmen. Many Airmen from different units volunteered to help prepare meals for tens of thousands of evacuees. None of us had any experience with the logistics of this large undertaking. We made over 2,400 meals that night for just our own POD in under three hours.” – Master Sgt. Ron Murray, 501st CSW superintendent of religious affairs.

“It’s been a bit of a humbling experience. Just seeing the impact that we had on Afghanistan and the impacts we’ve had on people’s lives. My favorite part has been meeting all the people, hearing their experiences, because each person just went through something completely different. When they come through, they tell you about everything they’ve gone through, where they would like to go, what they hope they’re going to do in the U.S.” – Staff Sgt. Wesley Ogolla, 422nd SFS base defense operation center controller.

“We’ve had a lot of women who came here pregnant, and they’re going into active labor. Therefore, we have to transport them to a nearby hospital where they will give birth. … My favorite part is seeing the kids and the joy on their faces. The kids are ready to give you high fives and fist bumps. It’s seeing them here, and knowing they’re safe.” – Airman 1st Class Mariah Roman, 422nd SFS patrol officer and medic transport.

“It’s an extremely humbling experience seeing what these people don’t have. Some of them left everything back home. We’re helping them feel more comfortable in their home away from home. We’re just trying to get all these people in a safe environment and to feel more welcomed.” – Senior Airman Meghan Ballard, 423rd SFS pass and registration supervisor.

“I’m very introverted, but it’s definitely opened me up to talking to a lot of people and answering questions as best as I could. The experience has been really rewarding. If they speak English, they share their stories. It’s very interesting how they got here and the process. My favorite part is playing ball with the kids. They’ll play with you for hours on end. Sometimes we teach them words or how to play games like Duck-Duck-Goose, Red Rover or Thumb War. The language barrier is there for sure. Since we’ve got the interpreters here, it’s helped out a lot.” – Senior Airman Desiree Grant, 423rd SFS emergency communication controller.

“We offer them blankets, food, the kids shoes… I just like helping out. It’s really sad when you see kids walking around barefoot, just because they had to leave their country so fast. You feel like you have to help. I like to help them how I can, by providing any shoes or blankets, specifically for the younger children and the infants. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s honestly going to stay with me for the rest of my life. These people came to look for a better life, and me being a part of it, seeing it first hand, it’s going to directly impact me for a very long time.” – Senior Airman Arianna Andrade, 423rd SFS base defense operation center controller.

“Seeing what they’re going through on a daily basis and what they’re trying to overcome, it definitely puts a different perspective of what is necessary for your own life. My favorite part about being here has to be the people. It’s a different culture and I do not speak the language, but through the body language, gestures, fist bumps, high fives with the little kids, smiles on the faces, even without speaking the language you understand. Whether it’s the donations of the food, clothing, shelter, blankets, jackets, or just coming here and helping clean out the trash bins, every little bit helps, there’s nothing too small. You do what you can do.” – Tech. Sgt. Johnny Conely, 423rd SFS flight sergeant.