Airmen set up beds in a hangar at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, August 19, 2021. Ramstein Air Base provides accommodation for evacuees from Afghanistan as part of Operation Allies Refuge during the next weeks. (Edgar Grimaldo / US Air Force)
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – Rows of military beds were set up in a hangar at Ramstein Air Base, as Airmen and volunteers sorted toiletries, baby items, toys and clothing into boxes in a neighboring building before the arrival of hundreds of evacuees from Afghanistan on Friday.
“We put ourselves in their shoes – if we were to escape a terrible force and leave all of our things behind, what would we need when we got to a safe place? Andrew Wilder, an Air Force first sergeant, said he and a half-dozen volunteers organized shipments of goods donated by members of the Kaiserslautern military community, hours before three planes carrying the first wave of evacuees landed around 7 p.m. Friday.
Almost 400 people, including many Afghan families with children, were on the first flights to reach Ramstein. Days earlier, after the Taliban quickly took control of Afghanistan, they had been airlifted out of the chaos from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Qatar, and on Friday were flown to the sprawling US base in the south. -West of Germany.
Ramstein has the capacity to handle up to 5,000 evacuees, and more planes are expected in the coming days, base officials said.
They will remain on the base “temporarily while in transit to more permanent resettlement locations,” the United States Embassy in Berlin said in a statement. It was not clear whether they would be resettled in Germany or in another country.
Ramstein Airmen had collected a room full of clothing and other items for the evacuees in just hours Thursday after a call for donations was posted on a Facebook page used by thousands of members of the military community.
But Wilder said they need more diapers and infant formula – and soccer balls for the kids.
A total of around 7,000 people have been evacuated on US military flights out of Kabul since Saturday, Army Major General Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for regional operations, said Thursday.
The United States’ goal was to evacuate “as much as possible, as quickly as possible,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters the same afternoon.
Thousands of American citizens were among those still waiting to be transported out of Afghanistan on Friday, but most of those seeking to be evacuated are Afghans, including interpreters and journalists who have worked with Americans over the years. 20 years they spent in the country.
Footage from the airlift operation showed a US Air Force C-17 carrying 823 people – the most ever carried in the massive military cargo plane – and Afghans falling to their deaths after hanging on alongside another C-17 as it took off from Kabul.
But the mother of an aviator flying a C-17 transporter to and from Kabul said an image captured the Air Force mission – the image of an Afghan child sleeping on the floor of a C-17, wrapped in an aviator jacket for warmth.
This image “touches our hearts” and underscores the “sense of duty, the sense of purpose that Airmen feel, doing what we can to help people who need help, no matter who they are,” said Wilder.
“Helping the people who have helped us, in any way we can, whether or not we have served in Afghanistan, means something to all of us,” he said.