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I was eating a breakfast taco in Austin, Texas sitting next to Tim Kennedy. Tim and I were talking about Afghanistan. We knew what that country was about to face under Taliban rule. Tim had almost lost his life there. We had both lost friends there. The idea that twenty years of American casualties and sacrifice was going to be washed away was crushing. But neither of us expected the speed with which the country fell, and we knew that a lot of good people were not going to make it out in time.
Like many veterans, we were helping put together names and sending them to groups like Allied Airflift 2021, hoping that small action would get someone through the gates at Kabul. But we felt powerless, to say the least. The pundits were already playing the blame game, which I had no time for. These weren’t people to them. They were just pawns that could be used to beat each other with. It was frustrating and exhausting. That’s when I got a text.
The text was from Sarah Verardo, of the Independence Fund. “Would you be willing to go to Afghanistan? They need help.”
I told her I was in Austin with Tim. “Can Tim go too?” she responded.
At first the idea seemed comical. I’m no longer a young man. I still try to train, but try as I like to pretend I’m still fire and brimstone, I’m more dad and business guy than I am soldier these days. But Sarah is a trusted friend and she doesn’t make requests lightly, so I ask her for more information.
While Tim and I discuss the possibility of going, Chad Robichaux of the Mighty Oaks Foundation texts Tim, and then me in rapid succession, asking the same question.
Chad’s interpreter, Aziz, is trapped in Afghanistan and he needs help getting him out.
Chad was one of the first fighters Ranger Up ever sponsored. He went on to build a powerful non-profit that has done a lot of good for veterans. When I turned down a job at the White House a couple years ago, Chad was the guy I recommended in my stead. I’m big on Chad, and Chad needs help.
I connect Sarah and Chad on the phone and we all start talking.
When we hang up, Tim and I look at each other.
Were we really going to do this? Everyone always jokes around about your friend pulling up in the white van outside your house and saying, “Don’t ask questions? Just get in!”
There’s a shortlist of people who I’d get in the van for. One was sitting next to me, and two others had just called asking for help.
Tim and I each had one more gate to pass. Our wives.
I called my wife and told her what was happening. I expected an immediate push back. Instead, she took a deep breath and calmly said, “What’s happening over there is terrible and I can’t believe we are letting this happen. I can’t do anything about it. But you can. Tim can. So go do it. But if you get killed, I’m going to be really pissed off.”
I flew home that day. I celebrated our anniversary.
I was on a plane to Abu Dhabi the next day, sitting next to Tim, who complained the whole trip about how I generate too much heat and that he would never sit next to me again. We, along with ten other guys that had either already arrived in country or, like us, were on their way there had just become part of Task Force 6:8. The name came from the biblical verse Isaiah 6:8, which reads, “Here am I, Send me.” The idea was Chad’s, and described this group perfectly.
Not once did anyone ask about the plates, plate carriers, NVGs, or sat phones we packed, but they did take my glasses screwdriver and Tim’s lockpicking set at customs.
We landed in Abu Dhabi at the JOC that had been created by a combination of Chad, Sarah, and some of our other friends. We were operating out of a military building that had the words “The Chivalrous Knights” written in Arabic at its entrance. Hence, we named this mission Operation Chivalrous Knight.
Within hours of arriving, Tim and I were on a plane to Kabul. Over the course of 8 days our team evacuated 8,911 people back into Abu Dhabi, as well as over 3,000 personnel to other countries at the request of the State Department, for a total of 12,000 people, or just over 10% of all evacuations that occurred in Kabul. We were second only to DOD.
What began as an idea to help a few people, led 12 individuals from different walks of life taking action and setting foot into Afghanistan, and turned into something enormous and life-changing of which I will always be proud. By the end of our time there, we had our own hangar and ramp, our organization was on the DOD JOC Board as Commercial Task Force, and we were fully integrated with DOD and State assets on the ground. Our ground team extracted thousands of people in impossible situations. One of our members lost 37 pounds because he simply wouldn’t take the time to eat more than a cracker between missions.
I grabbed a small camera and brought it with me on this journey, finding moments here and there to capture the madness of all of it. And at some point, when it will no longer endanger the ongoing mission, I will release that footage. I look forward to sharing that story. The men involved deserve that story to be told. They were superhuman.
There’s a lot I didn’t expect about the past two weeks. I did not expect 14 passport stamps or to be part of an elite team on the other side of the world. I did not expect the level of desperation we encountered, or how many children were suffering. I did not expect to evacuate 1,000 people, let alone the 12,000 we helped, nor did I anticipate visiting the consulates of multiple countries to discuss refugee matters. I definitely did not expect to get back to America and see the customs officer casually look at my stamps in and out of UAE to a mystery location (no stamps in Afghanistan now) multiple times in the same day and ask absolutely zero questions.
So when I left the gate and headed to baggage claim, I thought I had finally defeated the unexpected. But Kevin “Hollywood” Heard had other plans. When I stepped off the plane arriving back in the United States, he stuck a camera in my face. I had gone a week and half without any real sleep. I had just finished nearly an entire day of flights home. I just wanted to go to bed.
Instead, I was driven to our studio, and gave an interview. Hollywood’s reasoning was that it had to be raw and honest and this was the only time he’d be able to knock that “West Point shine” off of me. So I did.
I have a lot more to say about this, but for now, I simply want to say that the people I worked with are some of the finest I have ever met. They gave everything they possibly could, often at great risk to their own lives. The mission is still ongoing, and we have a lot of refugees that will require considerable support.
Please consider donating to the effort at SaveOurAllies.Org. We will not quit until truly no one is left behind.