Under siege – saving lives in the fall of Kabul
First you hear the sirens, then the automated, ‘INCOMING – INCOMING – INCOMING.’ You hit the ground.
You have no idea where the danger is. Seconds later, you jump up and run, not to hide but to do your job, to keep the systems in the fight. Other civilians are sheltering, we stay outside.
Because if we quit, people die.
We are the Defense Programs Logistics Team. We install and maintain air defence systems that detect and destroy incoming airborne threats – a phalanx of shields that keep civilians and warfighters alive. We’ve been doing it for years.
In June 2021, we transferred from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to Hamid Karzai International Airport in the nation’s capital, Kabul. Our mission: help protect the diplomatic assistance program supporting the NATO withdrawal.
These are huge, complex machines under enormous heat and pressure 24 hours a day. When we get the call to go fix, we go all in to get it done as soon as possible. One shield down is one too many. Sitting still is a rare luxury.
Making every effort to support this courageous team and their families back home – staying in contact, understanding their needs, and keeping spirits up – was on the Serco leadership agenda every day. In all my years in the military, I have never seen this level of corporate concern for forward deployed personnel. It's amazing what people can accomplish in response to genuine care and recognition.
When the situation suddenly deteriorated, the game changed. Getting people out, before we were overrun, became our only focus. We were a tiny island caught in a mounting avalanche of hostility.
As everyone left, life on the base grew ever more tense and challenging. No waste removal. No water sanitation. Carefully rationed provisions. Limited comms with the outside world. Very little sleep. The enemy never sleep. Firefight flashes in the night. Explosions and sounds of the city collapsing. The end crept closer every day.
So, what do you do? You focus on the mission and each other, of course. Your life in their hands, their life in yours.
Many civilians supporting the warfighter never make it home. We were offered the chance to leave but I couldn’t walk away, not with people still on the ground. The system needed to be operational until the last flights left the airport.
I took my team aside and told them I was going to stay; told them they were free to choose. Without hesitation, with everything going to hell right outside, they all stood up. “If you stay, we stay,” they said.
This is the best team I’ve ever worked with. We’re a family. I’m so proud of them.
We flew out on August 31st – the third to last aircraft. Once aboard, we just sat staring at each other. We’d been in the field for nearly two years, all-in-all.
Now, we were all going home, the mission was complete.
Time to start planning the next one.
First Line Supervisor supporting Defense Programs, Serco Americas
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