By A.S. – Afghan Evac Coordinator & Team Leader.
Today someone proclaimed me an international logistics specialist and front-line Afghan evacuation handler. I call myself a humanitarian who is a disaster relief maven. I’m not political; I’m a problem-solver and a people-helper. Those who know me know I don’t like to lose. I will fight like hell for people and things I care about. This I care about.
I have friends with skin in this game, and I cannot leave them to navigate this alone.
No one wants to be alone in a time of crisis; there are many lives on the line right now.
This disaster is bigger but oh-so-the-same as my flood and disaster relief missions I manage regularly. Communication sucks, people are in turmoil, desperation is absolute, politicians pontificate, and bureaucracy is expert in bureaucracying (if that is a word).
I am no longer naïve. I no longer trust people to do what they say. I am a skeptic, and I am a realist. But I also believe that people are inherently good, and if we find the right people, good things happen. And like every other disaster I have worked, the boots on the ground and people in the trenches are the ones who know the real story.
Many people have moved on after watching the ‘fall of Afghanistan’ on CNN three months ago. For some of us, we have been deep in the mission for 90+ days supporting friends and family. 90+ days of calls, messages, emails, videos that would make the average person cringe.
We have been on Signal, Facetime, and WhatsApp with moms, children, and dear friends during difficult and dangerous situations. We continue to see what they see – through their phones and computers. We hear the fears, and sometimes live them with them in real-time, thanks to the technology surrounding us.
We continue to manage the chess match that is the safety and security of many people, strangers, friends, and colleagues. Maneuvering through Taliban checkpoints, moving in the dark of night, and finding secure locations to sleep have become normal. And this should not be normal. This should not be normal for ANYONE in the world. The more I experience it, the more I must remind myself that — this is not a normal conversation. The more I experience the stories, the actions, the fear, and the movements, the more it becomes commonplace. It is part of our daily routine, and I repeat THIS SHOULD NOT BE NORMAL or accepted.
Many of us have family and friends who are tired of hearing about it; they’ve moved on and are oblivious to the monumental undertaking on the part of volunteer networks of everyday people, retired military personnel, and rogue do-gooders like me. This tragedy is still unfolding and we are doing what we can to manage the fallout.
We continue to pray for that one lead to get our people out of Afghanistan. We research and network ways to help those who were able to flee but are now stuck in third countries without processing capabilities or resources. We balance our intel to help other groups while trying not to put ours in jeopardy. We hope for that one country in the world who will issue a visa to someone fleeing (impossible) or the one charity who can get a plane somewhere, anywhere. (Extremely limited and mostly unrealistic). We hope to unite families separated in the chaos.
We wait for the approved paperwork from the U.S. government that won’t be issued until the family escapes on their own, yet there seems no way to escape safely. Even with our expert maneuvering, leaving one’s hiding place and coming out in the open to flee creates tremendous risk. It is heartbreaking.
We have learned more than we ever wanted to know about the portal to hell that is the information and registration system for the State Department and the Department of Defense. I’ve listened to employees for both organizations tear up talking to me. I’ve called strangers. I’ve asked for help from anyone who will listen. I’ve stalked friends for resources, contacts and links; thankfully we are still friends. Most have done what they can, but we are all powerless. Being powerless and having no control when others count on you is exhausting. We are all exhausted.
We are expert spread-sheet-filler-outers. And that is not a title one wants on a LinkedIn profile.
We have obtained visas and travel documents from the U.S. only to have our families beaten, captured, paperwork taken, and prevented from leaving. Then crickets from the same agencies who recommended the path when we seek more support or an alternative option.
We have seen, heard, and maneuvered more than the average rogue do-gooder ever should. We are not giving up. If we give up, all hope is lost for the moms, dads, kids, and families we are helping. They need us to keep fighting so they can keep fighting.
And then sometimes the right domino falls into place; we get a lead, and we start tracking it down. And we hope to find the next one and the next one, until one day the families are reunited, safe and secure.
Problem-solving is our superpower, and we flex it regularly. We are relentless. We will not yield; we cannot yield. Our people depend on us; they need us to succeed.
I love this team; they care, and they are doing everything in their power to make things right. They are fighting, scrapping, brainstorming, and even dreaming a little.
Please send good juju, prayers, energy or whatever other ideas you have to help us. My entire team of rogue do-gooders needs a positive push. They need a shout-out to “keep up the bad-ass efforts.” Tell them they rock. Tell them the sleepless nights are worth it. Tell them that success is around the corner and not to give up. And help us change the lives of the families we are helping.
We are relentless. We are exhausted. But we will not yield, we cannot yield. We got this!
A.S. is part of an organization that has been working to evacuate American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and ‘at-risk’ Afghans since August 2021 from Afghanistan. After reaching out to Afghan friends during the fall of Afghanistan, she started to help. She was quickly pulled into the underworld of darkness and fear faced by refugees and their volunteer partners. Her duty as an Afghan evac coordinator is to the families she is helping. She is building a network and support structure for Afghans navigating this complex maze with no end in sight. She is a problem-solver and rogue do-gooder who will leave no stone unturned.