Moody Airmen recognized for OAR support

  • Published
  • By Andrea Jenkins
  • 23rd Wing

The 347th Rescue Group recently recognized Flying Tigers for their heroic efforts in August 2021 in support of Operation Allies Refuge during a ceremony held May 31, 2022 at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

The Personnel Recovery Task Force – Hamid Karzai International Airport team was comprised of more than 175 Airmen deployed from three different bases and 11 home station squadrons. The Airmen remained in theater approximately 45 days and held 24/7 alert status to answer the rescue call, but also assisted with security details while providing shelter, food, water and medical care to Afghan evacuees.

“Even though you always think the best of your Airmen, it's only in challenging environments when you can truly see them shine,” said Lt. Col. Brian Desautels, 71st Rescue Squadron commander. “This was not an exercise, but a very dynamic and challenging environment that required the absolute best that everyone had to offer."

During the ceremony, Moody leadership presented three Bronze Star Medals, 12 single event Air Medals and more than 18 Air Force Commendation Medals with combat devices, and 21 Afghanistan Campaign and Humanitarian Service Medals to the Flying Tigers in attendance.

Desautels says that the award citations speak to the caliber of Airmen who wear the uniform, but most importantly to the Air Force’s ability to at a moment’s notice come together as a collective team with a common goal.

“We made a deliberate effort to pause on presenting these awards because we wanted for all of us to try to be together collectively as a unit because more than anything we were a unit,” added Desautels. “This was important as we operated as one team downrange and not as individuals. So many different Air Force specialty codes working side-by-side--no matter the patch worn, we knew we were part of the Personnel Recovery Task Force.”

As the downrange PRTF-HKIA commander, Desautels remarked that these Airmen remained on the ground until the last aircraft exited the Afghan airspace and were consistently asked to step up, lead and operate in roles they were not initially tasked to perform.

“What I heard during the reading of these citations, and I know it's similar for our brothers and sisters from the 563d Rescue Group and 355th Wing, was not a maintainer doing great maintenance, or a pilot flying an exceptional mission,” said Col. Chris Richardson, 347th Rescue Group commander. “For sure, those things happened, but what I heard and know to be true is that our Airmen, from ops, maintenance, and support, acted and responded to a very challenging, dynamic and dangerous environment well outside the traditional scope of their assigned mission. That's rescue.”

In total the PRTF-HKIA team received more than 500 total decorations or medals for actions including: Airmen manning defensive fighting positions, building the process to track and control all aircraft in and out the airport, and also providing escort to allow American and Afghan citizens onto the airfield for evacuation.

Richardson reiterated that it’s the ambition and determination of incredible Airmen like these, who are the driving force behind the future of the rescue community.

“The Airmen don't do the job for the recognition, but because they live the U. S. Air Force core value, Service Before Self,” added Desautels. “The Personnel Recovery Task Force – HKIA was a highly effective team getting members out of Afghanistan through traditional and unconventional means, provided security when we were significantly outnumbered, and did whatever needed to be done living the motto, "these things we do, so that others may live.”