EAST GRANBY, Conn. –
The 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Connecticut Air National Guard, was awarded the Air Reserve Component Air Transportation Activity of the Year Award for Fiscal Year 2021. The award recognizes organizations within the Logistics community for their contributions to the success of Air Force and DoD missions. The 103rd LRS received the award after 10 of its members performed key tasks while deployed in support of Operations Allies Refuge (OAR) and Allies Welcome (OAW).
As part of OAR, members of the 103rd LRS provided logistical and interagency support during the largest non-combatant evacuation operation in United States history. Approximately 124,000 individuals were evacuated from Afghanistan during the operation in August 2021. Members of the 103rd LRS processed passengers for the airlift evacuation, as well as built, inspect and loaded cargo to be transported out of Afghanistan. Master Sgt. Dan Meskell, air terminal NCOIC assigned to the 103rd LRS, said the scale of the evacuation was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“Nobody deployed expecting to move 124,000 [Afghan nationals] from their home country to the U.S., but our culture here is just to get the job done,” said Meskell. “The number still doesn't even seem real. It's such an enormous number of people to have helped and to have moved from their home country to safety. It really put life into perspective.”
On August 16, members of the 103rd LRS coordinated with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) during a security breach, in which thousands of Afghan nationals flooded the tarmac in hopes of being evacuated. The defensive posture taken by members of 103rd LRS and the 24th MEU prevented $128 mil worth of cargo and at least 187 personnel from being overrun.
“Tech. Sgt. Martin Weimann and his team did their best to secure the airfield and defend the planes by forming a perimeter around the planes that were parked on the airfield,” said Meskell.
Just days after the initial security breach, Meskell and his team were forced to take similar defensive measures. Meskell was on duty at HKIA on August 26 when an explosion struck Abbey Gate and claimed the lives of 13 service members and at least 170 Afghan nationals.
“When those alarms went off, we formed the same perimeter around the airfield,” said Meskell. “There were actually [Afghan nationals] on the airfield that were already screened and processed and waiting to board [the aircraft]. So we were not only forming a physical, armed perimeter around the airfield and the aircraft, but around the [Afghan nationals] as well, because they were just defenseless at that point.”
As the evacuation was happening at HKIA, Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) led by members of the 103rd LRS and other Air Force units, traveled to forward operating bases (FOBs) throughout Afghanistan to facilitate the transport of thousands of tons of U.S. assets out of the country. The QRTs completed a total of 700 missions in less than two weeks to close the FOBs by the closure deadlines.
Tech. Sgt. Kelsie Gorman, an air transportation craftsman assigned to the 103rd LRS, led a team at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar that oversaw the transportation of evacuees arriving from Afghanistan and departing to the U.S. and other locations. While Gorman oversaw the evacuees, Staff Sgt. Guillermo Maldonado, an air transportation journeyman also assigned to the 103rd LRS, led a team at Al Udeid that oversaw the transportation of cargo to and from Afghanistan. As a vehicle control officer, Maldonado was also responsible for making sure mission-essential vehicles were operational. Supervising parts of the retrograde process while also supporting missions that were unrelated to OAR was challenging, said Maldonado.
“The environment was pretty overwhelming, chaotic, and hectic,” said Maldonado. “It was a lot of work because, as we were drawing down from Afghanistan, all the equipment that we had built over the years was getting shipped out, back to the States, or back to other [military installations]. In terms of safety, the aircraft that were coming in from Afghanistan had hundreds of individuals in them, so we needed to provide the vehicles to support that. Everything was chaotic and hectic. There were other missions, aside from the Afghanistan mission that we still needed to support, but I was able to do my job and stay focused.”
Despite the challenges, the deployment was a valuable learning experience, said Maldonado.
“My deployment was a real eye opener,” said Maldonado. “I couldn't believe that I was a part of a deployment, doing something that was bigger than myself. It's rewarding and fulfilling. I'm grateful for it, because I've definitely grown, both as an airman and as a person, and I became a better leader.”
Members of the 103rd LRS, were also deployed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey in support of Operation Allies Welcome [OAW]. The support included processing evacuees, who were then connected with non-governmental organizations for resettlement into communities. Members of the 103rd LRS were involved in the U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal from its beginning, to its end on August 30.
“We were in Kabul, getting [evacuees and cargo] from Afghanistan, sending them to Qatar, where six of our members would receive them and send them stateside, to the U.S., where we had three additional members,” said Meskell. “Every step along the way, the 103rd air terminal was hands-on.”