488th Intelligence Squadron linguists participate in Operation Allies Refuge

  • Published
  • By Charles J. Haymond, 55th Wing Public Affairs

The White House announced on July 14, 2021, that Operation Allies Refuge was launched to support the relocations of eligible Afghan nationals and their immediate families. This initiative would allow the Afghan nationals and their families who supported the U.S. government the ability to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa.

The Department of State, the oversight federal agency for this operation, established the Afghanistan Coordination Task on July 19 and requested the Department of Defense provide support for up to 3,500 Afghan special immigrant applicants.

When Lt. Col. Sam St.Cyr, 488th Intelligence Squadron commander, and his Airmen heard of this operation, many of them jumped at the chance to help in this effort.

“They heard about an opportunity to help using skills that the Air Force taught them, and they jumped at the chance,” St.Cyr said. “While it was hard work and they did witness some disturbing things, they all wanted to go out again after their initial time was over.

One of the many volunteers was Tech. Sgt. Maggie Ryan. Although she was on temporary duty travel in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for a work conference, she was watching the evacuation closely. When the opportunity to volunteer opened, she reached out to the team.

“Due to cultural differences, I was able to better assist female evacuees,” Ryan said. “Every process and procedure needed to expedite the evacuees to a safer place was made easier if we were able to communicate, and being able to speak with the evacuees brought a lot of reassurance to both the evacuees and our troops assisting them. It was the most valuable skill I had for this operation and I was very fortunate to be able to assist in this way.”

When Tech. Sgt. Eric Plants returned from post deployment rest and relaxation, his director of operations reached out to him and others to inquire if they would support the operation. Within just a few hours, four members of the unit were flying with a large group of 48th Medical Group personnel from RAF Lakenheath Hospital to Ramstein aboard a KC-135 from RAF Mildenhall.

“As a team of translators, we were about 40 total personnel at the height of our manning, spread across two 12 to 15-hour shifts, serving the needs of upwards of 10,000 refugees across the base at any given time,” Plants said. “Being someone who they can approach and speak to in their native language, someone to ask questions of, to connect with and to have a mutual understanding of cultures was really important, and I think that provided a great deal of reassurance and comfort.”

Approximately 300 service members from various installations and agencies have supported the mission to date.

St.Cyr is proud of the personnel who rose to this challenge and volunteered.

“This might sound cliché, but I was not surprised that we had the volunteers that we did, and everyone that went forward are selfless individuals and they have repeatedly gone out of their way to assist others when the need arises,” St.Cyr said. “If anything like this comes up again, I have no doubt that they would all volunteer to do it all over.”