By U.S. Naval Air Station Sigonella Public Affairs
A total of 662 qualified evacuees from Afghanistan landed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella on Aug. 22 as part of Operation Allies Refuge.
The initial group of evacuees arrived on a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar with two C-17 Globemaster III afterwards.
Operation Allies Refuge is the U.S. Department of State’s mission for the safe evacuation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigration Visa applicants and other at-risk Afghans as quickly and safely as possible. Working in partnership with its allies in the Italian Air Force and Italian government, NAS Sigonella is serving as a transit location for evacuees before their onward movement to other locations.
“I could not be prouder of every single one of you,” said Capt. Kevin Pickard, commanding officer of NAS Sigonella, to a gathering of personnel from the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy and State Department at a captain’s call before the first aircraft landed. “To see how this base is able to pull in support, all across Italy, is truly impressive. The people we’re helping are going to be joining our American family. We’re proud to welcome them with open arms.”
NAS Sigonella is employing health protection standards in accordance with both Department of Defense and Italian government guidance to protect the health of the evacuees, service members, U.S. and local national employees and the community at large. COVID-19 mitigation is at the forefront of all health protection efforts, and all evacuees will be tested for COVID-19.
In addition, medical care has been set up to assess and provide assistance for anyone with injuries or other medical concerns.
NAS Sigonella personnel have designated two barracks buildings as temporary lodging on base for evacuees, along with Halal dining, religious and recreation areas.
“This is a short-notice mission that is a national priority for NAS Sigonella and team,” said Rear Adm. Scott Gray, Commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central. “They have moved heaven and earth to be ready to take care of folks leaving a desperate situation and are treating them with dignity and respect. They didn’t just complete the mission. They went above and beyond to help the Afghan people to the best of their abilities and with hearts full of empathy.”
Known as the “Hub of the Med”, NAS Sigonella’s strategic location as the Navy’s only overseas air station enables U.S, allied, and partner nation forces to deploy and respond as required to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa, and Central Command.