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Personnel Recovery Task Force.

Major Jared K Levaivre, 71st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron


“I had thought about this day countless times over the last year. It wasn’t until I saw this photo yesterday that a slew of emotions overtook me. I had trouble sleeping last night, I had nightmares I hadn’t had in almost a year.

The throughfare between the Barron Hotel Gate and the Abbey Gate had been completely inundated with scared Afghans trying to access HKIA. This hoard of people was a result of the British temporarily abandoning the Barron Gate the previous evening due to a shortage of manning. I had spent the night prior in the COC helping track and land the armada of airplanes carrying vital reinforcements, of which were elements of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines and 2nd and 3rd Battalion British Parachute Regiments. These two units would ultimately end up being the primary gate keepers of these vital access points to the airfield. Unfortunately, as daylight broke, word had spread that the Barron Gate was min-manned and the roughly 400-meter span of ground between the gates was shoulder to shoulder.

In order to continue the evacuation, this bottleneck had to be cleared. C-17’s and A-400’s capable of carrying hundreds of people were leaving at 25% capacity. The commander on the ground at the time, Rear Admiral Peter Vasely was livid at our lack of processing people thus far. That morning I found myself in a huddle with the company commander of Ghost Company, his British counterpart, and a handful of Marine staff NCO’s discussing the best tactical way to solve this problem. Before long, the man himself, his entourage, and 2/1’s Battalion Commander all showed up all demanding action. “Asses in seats” was the guidance and it didn’t matter how it happened.


The devised plan was solid, Spartan-esque in nature, but so were the Marines that were assigned to execute it. Nut to butt, Marines and British Paratroopers lined up to rush the area in front of the two massive steel doors of the Abbey Gate. Mike Tyson eloquently once said, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.” As soon as we opened the doors everything fell apart. From an elevated position on the hood of a gun truck pre-positioned to reinforce the gate, I watched the first squad meet fierce resistance. Not from deserving interpreters and their families trying to escape the Taliban, but from a large group of military aged males that didn’t speak English. I had no doubt that they had not lifted a finger to help the US or their fellow Afghanis in our 20-year effort. These “Men” pushed their way to the front of the crowd beating women and children in the process. Some had kidnapped children, trying to pass them off as their own to curry sympathy from us to let them in. They were steadfast in their efforts to gain access to the airport. I can remember thinking to myself, “If these guys fought the Taliban half as hard as they are fighting us to leave, we wouldn’t even be in this mess.”

The second and third elements, seeing their comrades in trouble, hastily poured out of the gate. Not in the straight line reminiscent of an organized Roman Legion that we had envisioned, but rather as a smattering of fire team sized units, three and four at a time. We couldn’t mass combat power, and I knew we were in trouble. Standing next to me, a Turkish soldier began firing his weapon agitating the crowd and instantly making things worse. The children smattered throughout gasped on to their parents, as they stared back at us. I had never seen such fear before. I screamed at the Soldier, but it was to no avail. I finally reached over and ejected his magazine from his weapon. He looked at me in anger. My first instinct was to strike him, but I quickly turned back to the crowd. From my position I could see one of the PJ’s in our group surrounded by civilians. He raised his M-18 and began firing in the air just so he could create enough space to move backwards towards the gate. Ghost Company’s Commander, bullhorn in hand, was also about to be swarmed. I leapt off the truck and waded out into the crowd, trying to consolidate our forces. I grabbed Marines and tried to force them shoulder to shoulder. Hands reached out from every direction. I forced them away trying to protect my M-9 that was strapped to my chest rig. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a large group of Marines and Paratroopers formed a wedge and drove themselves through the crowd taking no civilians with them in the process. The scrum rolled off the sides of the wedge as the group moved forward. As they passed, the mob simply refilled back into the void. We were even more outnumbered than before; our forces now split in half. The remaining Marines left in the crowd realized that we needed to regroup and fell back to the now closed gate. They were instantly pinned between the surging crowd and the steel doors. Agonizing screams escaped from their mouths as they were being crushed. I wasn’t faring any better. I had found myself in a very bad position, surrounded, and completely alone. Continuing my streak of bad luck, I found myself right next to the same shit-heads I had mentioned earlier. A fist made its way through the crowd and into the right side of my face. My eyes instantly filled with water and I could the sense the familiar metallic taste of blood in my mouth. I wanted to pull out my sidearm and shoot these guys on the spot. They didn’t belong here and were fucking it up for those families that did. They began pushing me, though due to the concentration of people, there was nowhere to go. My body was being crushed between the ceramic plates of my body armor. I could barely force air into my lungs.

This is it; I am about to die here in this crowd. Don’t fall down, if you lose your footing, you are going to die. Set a wide base or you are going to be trampled to death. Where is my gun? Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I gained my vision back just in time to see out of the corner of my eye a hand coming for the back of my neck. I reached for my knife ready to defend myself. Luckily, attached to that hand was a G-Shock watch and a MARPAT sleeve. A flashbang soared over my head and detonated just above me. Three audible pops caused the crowd around me to lower their heads and crouch for cover. In that moment I was pulled back to safety. The doors had been opened and we found ourselves on the other side of the wall, back on our side of the line.

I immediately climbed back up to my observation position. I could see that the British troopers from the wedge made their way back to their ilk at the Barron Hotel, leaving a group of Marines still in the rear of the crowd. Below me, a group of shit-heads in flexi-cuffs sat at the base of the truck. I may, or may not, have used two of them as footing to get onto the hood of the truck. As I struggled to gain my composure and catch my breath, a lance corporal asked if I wanted any gas. The contingency plan was about to be enacted. CS gas was the only feasible way to get the crowd to disperse. As much as I hated the idea of gassing women and children, I agreed with the assessment. We had no riot gear, no shields, and no dogs. Canisters began to flood the crowd with the pungent gas. It wasn’t since my time at TBS had I been subjected to CS. I had forgotten how much I hated the smell and how bad it instantly burns your lungs. Virtually no one had masks on, so we had to be careful to throw the canister far enough away that it wouldn’t affect us, but keep it close enough that the crowd was subjected to its effects. There was no wind, just unspeakably hot stagnant air. It was agonizing to be exposed to it. I could only imagine how the children in the crowd were reacting. I prayed that it didn’t kill them. I pulled the ring on my canister and held the spoon down looking for a place to throw the can. The screams were worse now. They were so loud they drowned out the persistent high-pitched ringing that was currently raging through both my eardrums, a direct result of the gunfire, flash bangs, and my absence of hearing protection. As I scanned, my eyes met a father holding his little girl, who was about the same age as my daughter. His wife was clinging to him using her chadar to cover her mouth and eyes. She desperately reached with her other hand to find the little girl’s mouth to protect her. His eyes met mine and in sheer terror mouthed “Please don’t” as he pointed to his daughter. I felt like such a monster. Somehow, I had found myself in a situation where a desperate father felt that he had to beg me not to gas his family. It was awful, his face still haunts me to this day. I started scanning again and quickly found a group of shit-heads that weren’t moving. I threw a two-seamed fastball right into one of their chests. I don’t think the human mind is supposed to go through significant emotional swings like that, but fuck that guy and his friends for putting me in that position. We went on to later use that hole in the fence to channel people across an adjacent canal restoring some semblance of order. This canal became vital over the next week and a half in the extraction efforts. It allowed us to properly vet civilians from a distance. We only brought them across to our side if they could be vouched for. The whole process was biblical. Much like how someone is born again through baptism, these Afghanis were to born again into a new life in America by unceremoniously wading across the canal. Unfortunately though, unlike in a baptism, where the water is generally clean, this canal was full of thigh high, sewage and human waste.

This day, this picture, captured one of the worst days in my 14-year career. Unbeknownst to me, I would go on to have 8 more days that were equally just as shitty. I’ve just recently begun writing about my experiences. It’s been therapeutic for me. I know a lot of guys are struggling out there, but remember you aren’t alone. Don’t suffer alone. Find your therapy, whatever that may be, and don’t forget to check in on your boys.”

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