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Gallant Unit Citation Awarded to 385th Air Expeditionary Group During Inactivation Ceremony

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Constantine Bambakidis
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing

After 20 years of activation, the 385th Air Expeditionary Group was awarded the Gallant Unit Citation and was subsequently inactivated during a tri-ceremony event here May 1, 2022.

The ceremony marked the first time in history that the Gallant Unit Citation was awarded to a unit under Air Mobility Command, and concluded with a change of command which instated Lt. Col. Daniel Naske as the commander of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

The Gallant Unit Citation was awarded to the group for its actions during Operation Allies Refuge in Kabul, Afghanistan. The unit airlifted vulnerable Afghans over the course of 17 days, culminating in the largest evacuation airlift in history. The Gallant Unit Citation has only been awarded five times total in its 18-year history, and this time it was presented by Maj. Gen. David Meyer, the Deputy Commander of Ninth Air Force.

“I think the performance of this unit defined expeditionary,” said Meyer. “Over that 17-day period, they flew over 530 missions, and moved and rescued 124,000 people.”

After the citation was awarded, the 816th, which operated under the 385th, held a change of command.

Lt. Col. Patrick McLaughlin relinquished command of the squadron to Naske. McLaughlin, who had been the commander of the squadron since May 2021, was also awarded the meritorious service medal for his actions during his time in command.

Following the 816th change of command, Col. Rob Lowe relinquished command of the 385th, officially inactivating the unit.

“The heritage that you’ve left, and the legacy and history that we’ve made is something that we can continue to be very proud of,” Lowe said.

18th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Kenneth Bibb presided over the ceremony.

“What this group has accomplished, to include its actions during Operation Allies Refuge, will be included in Air Force history alongside operations like the Berlin Airlift,” Bibb said. “Although this is an inactivation ceremony, all of you, the airmen who have contributed to this historic mission, will carry on its legacy throughout your service in support of our great nation.”

The unit’s history dates all the way back to World War II, when it was constituted as the 385th Bombardment Group and first activated at Davis-Monthan Field in Arizona. The unit has been activated and inactivated a number of times in its history, most recently being in 2002 during overseas contingency operations.

In its first year at Al Udeid Air Base, the 385th flew more than 14,600 airlift and refueling sorties and 20 combat airdrops. 385th Airmen have passed over 80 million pounds of fuel to 7,778 coalition aircraft, delivered 249 million pounds of cargo, carried over 150,200 passengers and transported 106 aeromedical evacuation patients to urgent care facilities.

The ceremony marked a historic moment for the units involved, and the end of an era in United States Air Force aviation.