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NEWS | March 22, 2024

Honoring heroic efforts during Afghanistan evacuation

628th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

More than 60 Airmen earned medals for their participation in Operation Allies Refuge (OAR) during a ceremony at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., March 21, 2024.

During OAR, U.S. military personnel, including these 64 Airmen, facilitated critical missions to safely evacuate U.S. citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and vulnerable Afghan nationals from Kabul, Afghanistan in 2021. The operation required swift action and coordination, highlighting the capabilities and readiness of the U.S. Armed Forces and their commitment to human safety and well-being.

During the ceremony, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Paul Eberhart, commended the recipients for their valor and actions during OAR, the largest non-combatant evacuation in American history.

"No matter what happens, you must always be prepared to answer the call when our nation needs to move people, equipment and supplies,” Eberhart said. “Each and every one of you is a national treasure, and I am exceedingly proud of the accomplishments being recognized here today. I’m very hopeful as we journey through an uncertain and unpredictable future, knowing that you continue to stay on watch and prepare for tomorrow's unknown."

The event was organized by the 437th Airlift Wing, in collaboration with the 628th Air Base Wing and 315th Airlift Wing, to formally recognize members from all three wings who deployed in support of the operation but had not yet received formal recognition for their valorous contributions.

More than 60 medals were awarded during the ceremony:

A Distinguished Flying Cross - awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.

Thirty Air Medals with C-Device - recognizing meritorious achievement in aerial flight under combat conditions.

Seven Air Medals - bestowed for distinguished service in flight.

Fifteen Meritorious Service Medals - bestowed for non-combat outstanding service or achievement.

An Air and Space Commendation Medal - awarded for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.

Ten Air and Space Achievement Medals - recognizing significant accomplishments or service.

Captain Jonathan Wuerzburger, 15th Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III pilot, played a pivotal role in the safety of crew members and passengers at Hamid Karzai airfield during the Afghanistan evacuation.

“To be recognized for the operations conducted in Afghanistan means a lot to me,” Wuerzburger said. “It wasn’t just one individual, unit, or career field. It was the combined efforts of everyone involved, including the families back home who carried the weight of their loved ones being gone and the uncertainty of their safety while this operation was conducted.”

The ceremony was a profound testament to the bravery, dedication, and hard work of the Airmen, whose contributions to OAR were crucial to the evacuation of over 120,000 Afghan citizens, allied partners, and U.S. citizens from Afghanistan.