More than 30 Army and Marine Corps units will receive the Presidential Unit Citation for evacuating more than 124,000 civilians from Kabul in August 2021, according to a full list of recipient units released by the Pentagon.

The awards will go to the units that made up the ad hoc task force hastily assembled at Hamid Karzai International Airport in August 2021 as thousands of desperate Afghans surrounded the airfield hoping to find a flight out of the country. Those US units included National Guardsmen from Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Washington as well as active duty units from the 82nd Airborne Division and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Together those units kept the airport open to round-the-clock evacuation flights during Operation Allies Refuge, the largest non-combatant evacuation operation in American history.

The Presidential Unit Citation is the highest distinction that a unit can receive and is nearly always awarded for combat. 

“The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign,” the Army’s regulation on military awards says. “The degree of valor required is the same as that which would warrant award of a DSC [Distinguished Service Cross] to an individual.”

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While the announcement covers the Army and Marine Corps units that rushed to Kabul, the Air Force has to date not announced any unit awards around the weeks of non-stop evacuation flights carried out by a wide swath of mobility units. However, Air Force officials awarded 96 airmen received Distinguished Flying Crosses and 12 Bronze Stars in October for the flights that whisked American and Afghan civilians to safety.

The crew of one C-17 was awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses for taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport with 823 evacuees aboard – more than twice the maximum number of passengers that the aircraft is designed to transport.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that Army and Marine Corps units would receive the Presidential Unit Citation on Thursday, the second anniversary of the end of the Afghanistan War.

“We bow our heads today in memory of the 2,461 U.S. service members who never made it home, including the 13 courageous troops taken from us in the attack at Abbey Gate in the final hours of the war,” Austin said in a statement. “We also remember the hundreds of service members from allied and partner countries who lost their lives during this 20-year war. And we honor the more than 20,000 Americans who were injured waging war in Afghanistan, including many who still bear wounds that are not visible.”

Army units recognized

Army spokesman Bryce Dubee said on Thursday that select elements from the following units that took part in Operation Allies Refuge will receive the Presidential Unit Citation.

  • Headquarters, 82nd Airborne Division
  • 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division
  • 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division
  • 1st Attack Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade
  • 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
  • 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
  • DIVARTY, 82nd Airborne Division
  • 82nd Sustainment Brigade
  • 16th Military Police Brigade
  • 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade
  • 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade
  • 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment, Massachusetts National Guard
  • 319th Ordnance Company, Washington Army National Guard
  • 1st Battalion, 194th Armored Regiment, Minnesota National Guard
  • 249th Engineer Battalion, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • USA Network Enterprise Center, Qatar
  • 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment
  • 8th Psychological Operation Group
  • 95th Civil Affairs Brigade
  • U.S. Army Special Operations Command

“The bravery of the Soldiers on the ground and the dedication of those who supported every evacuation flight exemplify the ideals of service with honor and compassion,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said on Thursday. “Until the last aircraft departed, the 82nd Airborne Division and members of JTF-82 [Joint Task Force-82] held the line and provided the safe passage needed to evacuate over 100,000 U.S. citizens, Afghan civilians, and family members. It is a privilege to recognize these Soldiers for their actions during the tumultuous days of August 2021 and to honor their courage at a time when the entire Nation relied on them to complete their mission – which they did with great distinction.”

Marine Corps units awarded

The Department of the Navy has announced the following Marine Corps units will also receive the Presidential Unit Citation for their bravery during Operation Allies Refuge:

24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

  • Command Element
  • Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines
  • Combat Logistics Battalion 24
  • Marine Tiltrotor Squadron 162 Reinforced

Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC)

  • Command Element SPMAGTF-CR-CC 21,1
  • 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines
  • Combat Logistics Battalion 21
  • Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 Detachment
  • Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 352 Detachment A
  • Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 234 Detachment A
  • Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 364

Marine Operations Group Central-Forward

“This Presidential Unit Citation is a testament to the incredible dedication, sacrifice, and professionalism embodied by the men and women of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (Central Command), who rapidly deployed into harm’s way to protect and defend Afghan civilians,” Marine Corps spokesman Maj. James Stenger said on Thursday. “The Marines and Sailors who participated in Operation Allies Refuge are deserving of this distinguished recognition.”

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