AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
The 379th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron is generally best known for providing services that help maintain the morale and welfare of deployed service members at Al Udeid Air Base, including running facilities such as the base’s five dining facilities, lodging, several gyms, community centers, and postal office, as well as by hosting various events like karaoke, bingo, and live musical performances.
However, during the recent Aug. 2021 Afghanistan evacuation the 379th EFSS took on a completely unfamiliar role as they were tasked with sustainment of the tens of thousands of evacuees that would make their way through Al Udeid AB.
To achieve this task, the 379th EFSS focused on a variety of factors, including providing food and lodging, and obtaining and distributing various necessities for all the incoming personnel.
“This was so far beyond our normal training,” said 1st Lt. Carlos Summers, 379th EFSS sustainment services flight commander. “Normally, for contingency trainings, we set up single pallet expeditionary kitchens, which are meant to feed people in the hundreds. That went out the window because now we were being tasked with feeding people in the tens of thousands.”
Prior to the evacuation, initial planning efforts prepared for distributing food to up to 250 evacuees at a time out of the base’s reception control center. However on Aug. 15, the first flight of 823 evacuees landed, and with more aircraft inbound, it quickly became apparent that initial plan was not going to be sustainable. The 379th EFSS rushed to shift the dining facilities into 24-hour operations. Within the first five days alone, Airmen and DFAC contractors made more than 25,000 sandwiches and distributed 10,000 cases of Meals Ready-to-Eat to the evacuees – in total serving the evacuee population more than double the normal output from all five dining facilities combined.
The number of evacuees continued to climb and quickly overwhelmed the capacity for the base’s food operations. With the help of the 379th Expeditionary Contracting Squadron, the 379th EFSS successfully reallocated funds from an existing Army food contract at Camp As-Sayliyah to support the ever-growing mission. Although food was now secured, distribution logistics still had to be considered.
“A lot of these vendors didn’t have access to base,” said Summers. “We would have to meet them outside the gate with our refrigerated trucks, unload it, deliver food, drive back to the gate and then just repeat that cycle. We had to set up a chain to get the food in and distributed as fast as possible, and that was the whole operation. It was consistent; every day, day in and day out, in the middle of the August heat.”
This challenge was made even more difficult, as available refrigerated trucks could only transport about 2,000 to 3,000 meals at a time to the multiple sites that required food delivery.
“We were delivering roughly 22,000 meals a day,” said Senior Master Sgt. Paul Shideler, 379th EFSS sustainment services superintendent. “At the peak we delivered 41,000 [meals] in one day. We distributed to eight different locations with only six people.”
The procurement from off-base vendors totaled an additional 420,000 meals and helped sustain evacuees for the remainder of the operation. As necessary as it is, food was only one consideration that had to be met. Due to the number of families with children arriving daily, many other items were needed that were not readily available on a deployed military installation.
“Typically, throughout the day, we would let the unit control center and the emergency operations center know what was needed,” said Shideler. “During the day, contracting would go out and scout for those things or work with some of the local groups, and in the evenings, truckloads would show up with snacks, baby formula, diapers, mattresses, bedding… We would get all of that stuff to our warehouse and then distribute it to the different operating locations from there.”
Lodging and Postal Operations
As evacuees continued to arrive, other military units from across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility also arrived to support the evacuation effort, forcing the 379th EFSS to outfit facilities toward accommodating the mission.
By compressing forces in the numerous lodging facilities nearly 3,000 additional bed spaces were made available for inbound augmentees.
To accommodate lodging for the many Army and Marine units that arrived at the installation before forward deploying to Hamid Karzai International Airport, the 379th EFSS outfitted the Blatchford-Preston Complex Fitness Center with 464 cots.
Additionally, all non-mission essential activities were suspended, freeing up more contractors and service members to help with lodging activities.
As the number of evacuees climbed into the thousands, Qatari hosts offered to open the base’s customs warehouse, where outbound mail is processed, as an operating location. As this area was opened to stage evacuees, it significantly impacted outbound mail operations, while also briefly impacting inbound mail. From Aug. 15 to Sept. 5, after inbound mail resumed, the post office processed more than three times its usual amount of mail. Approximately 31,708 packages, weighing in at 223,506 lbs., were processed as donations flooded in from people eager to help evacuees.
“To see us all come together, synergize, and execute this plan for the greater good of humanity was amazing,” said Shideler. “Personally, I’ve never felt such a sense of accomplishment, being there to help and provide thousands of displaced civilians with food, water, and other vital personal items. To be honest, the entire operation was so rewarding for me, both personally and professionally, and I feel extremely humbled to have been a part of it all.”
Since September 9, all Afghanistan evacuees have moved on to their next destination and the 379th EFSS have returned to normal operations at Al Udeid AB. However, moving forward, the 379th EFSS has a better understanding of their capabilities and intends to capitalize on lessons learned for future operations.