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Alaska troops discuss their roles with evacuations from Afghanistan

Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 7:10 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - One could call it mission accomplished for Alaska-based troops who took part in the evacuations from Afghanistan.

“The reports we’re getting from our folks is they’re doing very well,” said Lt. Col. Nathan Schauermann, the commanding officer of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 144th Airlift Squadron.

The unit from the 176th Wing helped fly some of those flights.

“They’re doing great. High spirits, everybody’s pretty excited to be a part of this mission,” Schauermann said.

The 144th is not the only Alaska-based unit that flew those missions. So did members of the active duty 517th Airlift Squadron, from the 3rd Wing, according to a press release from the Alaska National Guard. One of the crews with members of the 144th and 517th departed Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Aug. 16, according to the release, and another crew was retasked from a mission they had been serving in the same area.

“Our personnel are focused on the mission to facilitate and execute the evacuation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other at-risk Afghans as quickly and safely as possible,” the release, sent while the efforts were still ongoing, stated.

“The pride I feel in watching my pilots do what they have trained every single day to accomplish and do it flawlessly is immensely prideful for me,” said the 517th Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Christopher Prentiss. “And seeing the vulnerable Afghans, seeing the faces of those personnel as they are rescued and brought back to safety is just something I could not personally describe.”

Maj. Jessie Stimpson is an instructor pilot with the 517th. She did not go Afghanistan, but her boyfriend did. She heard a lot about what happened there.

“The long days, the cargo that they’re moving, and just hearing some of the stories that they’re doing with some of the children and families onboard,” Stimpson said. “How they’re sharing food and water, just helping them out, and hearing them out. Interacting with some of the translators who helped us out over the years. It’s incredible what they get to experience right now.”

The Air Guard’s 176th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, and the 3rd Wing’s 703rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron also took part in the evacuations. A guard spokesperson estimated that Alaska-based crews transported around 1,700 U.S. personnel and vulnerable Afghans as of Aug. 27.

President Joe Biden’s administration said that roughly 122,000 people had been evacuated since the flights started. There have been obstacles.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had is the sheer volume of people, the number of people we wanted to help out,” Prentiss said. “And honestly the feeling like we just want to do more and more and not being able to.”

There’s no word yet when the four Alaska units will return home to JBER.

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