Sacrifice Remembered: 449th AEG, Camp Lemonnier Community honor fallen comrades with memorial half-marathon

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dhruv Gopinath
  • 406th Air Expeditionary Wing

On August 26, 2021 at 5:50 pm local time, a terrorist attack occurred at Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan, killing 183 people, among them 13 U.S. service members. Two years later and a continent away, the memories of that day remain clear to many members of the military community at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

“When the bombing happened, I remember not wanting to believe it and seconds later seeing a surveillance feed with masses of people running in all directions and everything covered in smoke and haze,” said Lt. Col. Brian Ayers, 81st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander and former member of the Personnel Recovery Task Force during the drawdown. “That’s when it hit me and we all immediately jumped to work preparing for the influx of wounded that would come, including potential casualty evacuation flights.”

Members of the PRTF had arrived in the country the month prior, ahead of the planned drawdown and while things initially seemed calm that quickly began to change.

“As more districts began to fall to the Taliban, it was apparent that momentum was shifting in their favor and on Aug. 15 they entered Kabul,” Ayers said. “The next 10 days were full of stress and chaos as the system for processing thousands of at-risk evacuees, allies, and Americans was developed and refined. It was during this time that many of us came in direct and enduring contact with the servicemembers who would later be killed at the Abbey Gate bombing, since you would see the same faces over and over again.”

As the Taliban expanded their control over Kabul, thousands of civilians made their way to Hamid Karzai International Airport, which made it a target for terrorists.

“In the end, we learned that 13 of our fellow Americans had been killed, and many were folks we knew, whether by name or face only,” Ayers said. “It was a heavy feeling. It was a tough day, and the weight of the deployment began to really hit hard.”

For the second anniversary of the bombing, the 81st ERQS along with other members of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group and Camp Lemonnier community came together to run a half-marathon to remember those who lost their lives. At a separate installation, the 303rd ERQS also held its own event in commemoration of the attack.

“The rescue community often will remember our fallen with different workouts, from PEDRO 66 in Afghanistan, JOLLY 22 in England, and JOLLY 51 in Iraq to name a few,” said Ayers. “Because of the 13 service members lost in the Abbey Gate Bombing, a half-marathon felt fitting, remembering each one of the fallen for every mile run.”

Despite the heat of the Djiboutian night, service members pushed themselves to complete the 13 mile run in honor of those who had to lay down their lives two years before.

“We work in a very unique profession, and I think it’s important to not only remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but to remember that they were people just like us,” says Ayers. “The job can go from mundane one moment to requiring everything of you and those beside you the next. Each one of our fallen were volunteers who stepped up to be a part of something bigger than themselves and in the end gave their lives doing so. That deserves remembrance.”