Red Tail Airmen save lives during Afghan withdrawal

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lauren M. Snyder
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Three Red Tail Airmen were awarded medals for their actions in Operation Allies Refuge during a special recognition ceremony in Southwest Asia, Jan. 7, 2022.

At President Biden’s direction, the United States launched the operation to support relocation flights for Afghan nationals and their families eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas. In August 2021, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Airmen were tasked to forward-deploy to Afghanistan during the final days of American military withdrawal from the country to aid the operations efforts.

“None of us could have known that in a matter of weeks, the largest non-combatant evacuation operation in United States history would take place as 124,334 humans were delivered to freedom,” said Lt. Col. Brian T. Stahl, 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group commander, who presided over the ceremony. “We controlled the busiest and most dangerous piece of sky in the world and it was our own mighty Red Tails Strike Eagles who were the last manned aircraft out of Afghanistan, because a few dozen of our wing stepped forward in spite of the acute danger.”

Recognized for meritorious service with a Bronze Star medal, Capt. Adam J. Solomon, 332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron airfield manager.

“This medal is bestowed specifically for meritorious achievement in the performance of military operations against an armed enemy,” said Stahl. “Thank you for your actions and leadership.”

Capt. Solomon supervised a four-man team in safeguarding the airfield arrival and departure corridors, coordinated joint force communications for thousands of multinational personnel, and increased outbound evacuation flights exponentially, all within 24-hours, by managing the use of a new sequencing tool. His redesign of procedures was hailed as a Defense Department benchmark and briefed to the President of the United States along with multiple partner nation heads of state. Solomon headed diplomatic and strategic activities during the first airfield operations meeting with the Taliban’s Minister of Aviation and defused tensions between multiple countries’ representatives as they responded to the complex attack from Islamic State members.

Two Senior Airmen were awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal with a Combat Device. Col. Stahl explained this device delineates those service members performing meritoriously under the most difficult combat conditions.

Senior Airmen Dakota C. Bartz and Andrew J. Kimrey, 332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron air traffic controllers for radar approach, performed their duties in hostile conditions and at significant personal risk, Stahl said.

Immediately after reaching Kabul, both SrA. Kimrey and Bartz risked their lives repeatedly to strengthen airfield operations. They joined a U.S. Marine Corps security team in a physical blockade where they used their bodies to prevent the active taxiway from being swarmed and oversaw operations to ensure continuing airlift capabilities while exposed to indirect fire and ground attacks.

SrA. Bartz drove nighttime air operations, leveraging radio operations to ensure airfield security and negating the inoperable radar to prevent mid-air collisions.

SrA. Kimrey managed daytime operations, creating a graphic to avert mid-air collisions and guiding an Afghan General Officer and his staff through the evacuation efforts.

The actions these Airmen took directly supported the largest airlift the United States military has conducted in 72 years enabling the operation to preserve 3,511 flights and evacuate 124,394 personnel without operable radar and resulting in zero aircraft incidents.

Under threat of sniper fire, these Airmen also established a security zone during hostile attack and were able to secure the safety of 1,504 refugees.

The selfless actions of Capt. Solomon, SrA. Bartz and SrA. Kimrey demonstrate the continued legacy of the 332nd’s Tuskegee heritage of great strength and bravery in times of uncertainty.

“As Red Tails, we are together for a brief moment in time, placed in each other’s lives to accomplish something bigger than any individual or unit, and all for the betterment of our nation,” said Stahl.  “We will not squander this opportunity.”