Kabul evacuation yields awards for hundreds more mobility airmen

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Another batch of nearly 300 airmen will receive military awards for their actions during Operation Allies Refuge, the U.S.-led evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan in 2021, the Air Force announced Wednesday.

The latest round of medals includes 12 Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Pentagon’s highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement; four Bronze Stars, including one with a device signifying valor; 208 Air Medals, for especially noteworthy acts in flight; and 73 Meritorious Service Medals, for heroism or similarly significant accomplishments.

Most of the decorations denote involvement in combat.

The awards honor the airmen’s “highest-caliber bravery and tenacity” during the largest evacuation of noncombatants in Air Force history, spokesperson 1st Lt. Peyton Craven said.

Allies Refuge rushed to evacuate more than 124,000 American and Afghan citizens from Afghanistan in a matter of weeks as the Taliban returned to power after almost two decades at war with the United States.

Initial awards focused on the contributions of pilots and other aviators; later rounds have aimed to recognize airmen outside the cockpit. The newest group of recipients spans the aircraft maintainers, loadmasters, elite security forces known as “Ravens,” aeromedical evacuation personnel and tanker aircrews whose support made Allies Refuge possible.

Acknowledgement of their “heroic feats” is long overdue, Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Mike Minihan said in a release.

The Air Force declined to provide the names of troops who will receive the honors or descriptions of their roles in the evacuation.

Air Mobility Command has approved nearly 750 awards for airmen involved in Allies Refuge. It’s unclear how many more airmen have received honors in connection with the operation because those decisions are spread across multiple organizations, the service said.

Minihan has promised to pursue additional top-level honors, like the Presidential Unit Citation, for mobility crews who were left out of earlier nomination packages.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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