Ramstein Air Base Readies for Possible Airlifts of Afghanistan Evacuees

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Kaiserslautern military community sort through donated goods at Ramstein Air Base
Andrew Wilder, an Air Force first sergeant, front left, and half a dozen volunteers from the Kaiserslautern military community sort through donated goods at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 19, 2021. The donations were collected for evacuees from Afghanistan, who were expected to arrive at the base. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Ramstein Air Base is preparing for the possible arrival of Afghanistan evacuees on multiple flights, base officials said Friday.

"This is still an evolving situation," 86th Airlift Wing officials said in a brief statement to Stars and Stripes. It was unclear if or when anyone from Afghanistan would arrive, the statement said.

The uncertainty didn't stop airmen from doing what they could to try to comfort people fleeing from Afghanistan after the Taliban's swift takeover.

Orderly rows of military cots stood in a hangar near the flight line as airmen and spouses worked late into the night Thursday in a nearby building, sorting through donations of toiletries, baby items, toys, clothes and soccer balls.

"We put ourselves in their shoes -- if we had to escape some terrible force and we left all of our things behind, what would we need when we got to a safe place?" Andrew Wilder , an Air Force first sergeant, said as he and half a dozen volunteers organized carloads of goods donated by members of the Kaiserslautern military community ahead of the anticipated arrivals.

"Our effort right now is focused on supporting them when they get here, if they get here, for as long as they're here, with some of the things they might need," he said as a volunteer dropped a blouse into a box marked in Sharpie with the words "women's clothing."

In the few hours since the appeal for donations was launched on a Facebook page used by thousands of members of the military community, Ramstein airmen had collected a roomful of clothing and other items for any evacuees who might arrive.

If no one showed up, the items would be donated to needy German families, such as those displaced by recent flooding in the northern part of Rheinland-Pfalz state, volunteer Megan O'Donnell said.

Some 7,000 people have been evacuated on U.S. military flights out of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport since Saturday, Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, the Joint Staff's deputy director for regional operations, said Thursday.

The U.S.'s goal was to evacuate "as many as we can, as fast as we can," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters the same afternoon.

Thousands of American citizens are among those still waiting to be airlifted out of Afghanistan, but most seeking to be evacuated are Afghans, including interpreters and journalists who worked with Americans in the 20 years that they were in the country.

Images of the airlift operation have shown a U.S. Air Force C-17 carrying 640 people -- among the most ever carried in the massive military cargo plane -- and of Afghans falling to their deaths after clinging to the sides of another C-17 as it took off from Kabul.

But the mother of one airman flying a C-17 transporter in and out of Kabul said one image embodied the Air Force's mission -- a picture showing an Afghan child sleeping on the floor of a C-17, cloaked in an airman's jacket for warmth.

That image "pulls at our heartstrings" and underlines the "sense of duty, sense of purpose that airmen feel, doing what we can to help people who need help, no matter who they are," Wilder said.

"Helping the folks who have helped us, in any way we can, regardless of whether we served in Afghanistan or not, means something to all of us," he said.

Stars and Stripes reporters Jennifer Svan and Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this report.

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