Hundreds of airmen are set to receive awards, including some of the military’s top honors, for the evacuation of Afghan citizens from Kabul amid the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.
The U.S. Air Force is planning to hand out more than 350 awards for the heroism airmen showed during Operation Allied Refuge, the largest non-combatant air evacuation in U.S. history, which took place during the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, the branch announced.
More than 120,000 Afghans – and thousands of Americans – were airlifted from the Hamid Karzai International Airport during the operation as the Taliban retook Afghanistan and captured Kabul in the final days of the United States’ 20-year war there.
“The world witnessed history during that airlift, borne on the shoulders of mobility heroes,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of the Air Mobility Command. “This recognition is long overdue for what our heroes did during those historic 17 days.”
The Air Force’s announcement recognized that the acts of valor in question occurred more than a year ago.
“Make no mistake, we should have done this last year immediately after the operation, and I recognize our Airmen’s frustration with the process,” Minihan said. “We’re making that right.”
Among the awards are 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses for exceptional heroism in flight, as well as 12 Bronze Star Medals for non-flight-related heroism against an armed enemy.
The first of those two awards will be personally presented by Minihan in November during a visit to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, according to the announcement.
The 621st Contingency Response Group as a whole will get the Gallant Unit Citation for quickly repairing and running the airfield while it was surrounded by the Taliban.
In a separate process, President Joe Biden recently ordered medals be given to thousands of troops involved in the evacuation, as well as the resettlement in the U.S. of 80,000 Afghan refugees.