Dover AFB Ravens reflect on OAR

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicole Leidholm
  • 436 Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When news of the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster IIIs evacuating vulnerable Afghans started flooding news and social media feeds, Senior Airman Vincent Leal, 436th Security Forces Squadron Phoenix Raven team member, knew he was about to get a call.

Between Aug. 16 and Sept. 11, 2021, Leal and Staff Sgt. Timothy Bukovich, also a 436th SFS Phoenix Raven team member, assisted with the evacuations of more than 124,000 people from Hamid Karazai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the largest non-combatant evacuation operation airlift in U.S. history, Operation Allies Refuge.

During OAR, the Ravens were called on to provide security to the aircraft in Afghanistan.

“We’re the flyaway security for all [Air Mobility Command] assets, whether that’s C-17s, KC-10 [Extenders] or C-130 [Hercules],” said Leal. “If AMC deems an airfield, a fuel stop or anywhere inadequate or unsecure for the assets, then the Ravens are tasked to fly that mission.”

As a flyaway team, the Ravens are always ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. For OAR, having seen the news reports, they immediately began talking with counterparts to get to the action.

“How do we get there? How do we help?” was the first question Leal asked when he began preparations.

The Ravens helped by providing security for the flight crew and aircraft through flight deck denial, which is similar to the job of an air marshal. They deescalated several physical altercations between passengers who were waiting to board the aircraft, and aided medical teams by providing life-saving treatment when needed.

“I had to break up a couple fights of families getting mad at each other and pushing and shoving,” said Bukovich. “I also tended to some medical emergencies where some [Afghans] were passing out [due to the heat].”

During one of the missions, Bukovich hadn’t heard about the explosion outside HKIA until landing in Kabul, they were told it was now an aeromedical evacuation mission to fly the injured U.S. Marines out.

“It was humbling to be able to take these injured Marines back to better care,” said Bukovich. “I was honored to save their lives, helping the AE team in whatever way I could.”

Bukovich added how the experience of saving lives was surreal.

“As they were loading onto the jet, we were wondering, ‘How many more?’” said Bukovich. “They all had their luggage, their lives in their hands. They left everything behind except their valuables. People were leaving behind their livelihoods for a better life. It was eye-opening.”

Bukovich recalled how one interpreter they helped who had waited all day for a flight out of Kabul. When he was finally called up, everyone was pushing and shoving to get through and he went one way through the gate and his bags went the other way, out of his hands.

“His whole life was gone,” said Bukovich. “He just left it because it was more important to get out of there.”

Both Bukovich and Leal said interacting with the Afghans showed just how grateful they were to get on a flight out of Afghanistan.

“What got me through the [long] flights was being empathetic to them and seeing if they needed anything,” said Bukovich. “I don’t know how many times they wanted to get a photo with us, with the person who saved their lives. They were genuinely so thankful and it was very humbling.”