Non-combatant evacuation operations through the eyes of an American Airman

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michelle Y. Alvarez
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing

I am an American Airman. I am a Warrior. I have answered my Nation’s call.

Three simple lines that translate into something so much bigger.  At first glance these are just words, but to Air Force members they are easily recognized as part of a creed. They’re not just words, but a promise that defines who we are and what we stand for. This is a promise that U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Amber Flanagan, lead contracting officer representative, 380th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron, didn’t take lightly when she enlisted into the United States Air Force 13 years ago.

Previously deployed to Turkey and Spain, Flanagan is no stranger to answering her Nation’s call or the deployed life.

“This is my third deployment but my first time at Al Dhafra,” Flanagan said. “I had always wanted to be in the military, and after graduating high school and working three jobs in a small town, I decided I was ready to leave. I wanted to travel and push myself out of my comfort zone.”

On August 22, deployed life required something new of her, and she answered her Nation’s call one more time and in a whole new way.  

“Being selected for this non-combatant evacuation operation mission was a surprise for me,” she said. “I wasn't at all sure what I was about to get into.”

Along with other members from ADAB, Flanagan boarded a C-17 Globemaster aircraft headed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar in support of the non-combatant evacuation operations of American citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan. AUAB is where more than 55,000 evacuees would be temporarily housed during transit and processed forward to their next location.

“When I arrived and saw the chaos and the military staff doing everything they could to keep accountability, remaining safe and putting all those evacuees ahead of their own needs, I just fell into place,” she said.

“I helped the team organize processes and tried my best to pick up slack so they could have a break,” she explained. “Something as simple as requesting water, snacks, and food deliveries for the staff went a long way.”

As a non-commissioned officer and an additional duty first sergeant, she is no stranger to taking care of people and quickly implemented the same ‘above and beyond’ approach in this new role.

“I was on a rotating cycle like groundhog day, helping over five thousand evacuees at just one camp,” she said. “The worse parts were talking to family members who were separated from loved ones and hearing the heartbreaking stories of what they went through at Kabul.”

Flanagan said their camp quickly reached capacity and most evacuees had nothing but the clothes they wore when they left Afghanistan.

She stated that between supply deliveries and donations, service members were able to get evacuees shoes, clean clothes, soap, diapers, formula, clean linens and even had a charging station set up for their phones.

One of the most challenging aspects of being assigned to the NEO mission was “the sick babies and the feeling of being helpless when we did not have the resources to handle some situations,” she said.

“I think it was my third night there when we finally had soccer balls donated and watched the kids laugh and play despite everything going on, and it was so rewarding,” Flanagan said.

“We worked closely with the ‘reunite team’ who was working day and night locating family members all over and making sure they were brought back together,” an experience she described as “very emotional from start to end.”