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NEWS | Nov. 6, 2021

Airlifter Tanker’s Association recognizes Arctic Guardians for evacuation of Afghans

By Staff Sgt. Kelly Willett 176th Wing Public Affairs

The Airlift Tanker’s Association presented coins Oct. 30 for 144th Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft crew members for their efforts during Operation ALLIES REFUGE in August and September. 


ATA’s recognition was for the squadron’s support during the operation in Afghanistan from Aug. 12 to Sept. 2, which was the largest noncombatant evacuation operation since Vietnam.

Alaska Air National Guard 1st Lt. Luke Cvancara, C-17 copilot during the operation, accepted the ceremonial coin on behalf of the 144th AS at the 30th Annual ATA conference in Orlando, Florida.

One flight carried 476 passengers and required an emergency waiver to exceed the typically approved 350 passengers. There was little passenger security during these flights, leading to the crew taking responsibility for passenger screening and aircraft security.

Staff Sgt. Merick Ahlberg, a 144th AS loadmaster involved in this mission, expressed his initial reluctance and subsequent pride for being part of the mission.

“It’s not something you want to have to go do, especially based on the circumstances surrounding the event, but I was glad to be chosen to go, and I was glad to go with the people who went,” he said. “I knew we could get the job done, no matter what the scenario was.”

Maj. Zach Roberts, 144th AS C-17 aircraft commander, said the mission was short notice.

“Our crew was notified a day prior to leaving into the unknown that was evacuating refugees from Kabul,” he said. “It was an incredible opportunity to represent the Alaska Air National Guard while flying one of the most unique and rewarding missions any of us have and possibly ever will fly while helping as many people as possible”.

In total, during the 17-day mission, the crew evacuated 1,051 passengers and moved 395,800 pounds of cargo.

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