Security for Afghan travelers, OAW support teams redefines team effort in Germany

Soldiers from 21st Theater Sustainment Command provide security and assistance to Afghan evacuees at the transit area known as pod 51 on Ramstein Air Base September 9, 2021. The transit center provides a safe place for the evacuees to complete their paperwork while security screenings and background checks are conducted before they continue on to their final destination.

When the Sugar Bowl circus storms the Superdome in New Orleans, the event abounds with security. Bag searches. Bustling checkpoints. Hundreds of officers patrolling in squad cars, walking the aisles and eyeballing dozens of cameras across the venue as thousands of fans let the good times roll.

Security planning for a college bowl game can usually take months, even years. Now, condense that time to days. Change the fans’ six- to eight-hour tailgating and spectating stay to a month. Further, inject the fear, anxiety, and a confusion of being evacuated out of a war-torn country and airlifted to the event site.

That’s how security for Operation Allies Welcome at Rhine Ordnance Barracks evolved. Overseen by U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz and its Directorate of Emergency Services, security for the tens of thousands of Afghans who have called the temporary shelter home has been a new challenge according to the civilian who’s overseen the garrison security effort.

“The biggest challenge is the fact that nothing like this has ever been done before. There isn’t really any doctrine that tells us how to handle this situation,” said Lee Lewis, DES operations supervisor. “There are personnel from several different countries and governments involved. There has been a lot of ‘discovery learning’ involved.”

Lewis and his team have been in a supporting role providing external security to the Army’s camp. They’ve increased force protection measures with added attention to the perimeter fences and additional law enforcement patrols in and around the installation. “Our subject-matter experts have also advised the units on security measures and kept up with what is happening,” Lewis said.

While OAW is a ‘pop-up event,’ this security and law-enforcement effort is not unfamiliar territory for the garrison. Force and health protection is one of five core priorities for garrison and its regional headquarters, Installation Management Command-Europe based. The myriad security tactics, techniques and procedures are familiar.

And while DES keeps many of the security measures under wraps, Lewis noted that all the players involved know the stakes. “It was imperative we and the other units involved were successful; the safety and security of our military community, the travelers, and our host nation depend upon our success,” Lewis said.

Working hand-in-hand

Comparatively, DES has been managing security for a town similar in population to Bar Harbor, Maine; Santa Claus, Indiana; Dahlonega, Georgia; or Mendocino, California. Those towns’ total population would fit inside the ROB camp and the site at Ramstein Air Base.

For all of this to work, DES had to gather people to protect travelers and supporting forces alike. That includes portions of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, 16th Sustainment Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, 66th Military Intelligence Brigade, 92nd Military Police Company, 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron, and 709th Military Police Battalion, among others.

Capt. Misael Saldivar, protection officer for the 21st TSC, said the ability to communicate between units and conduct operations has been vital.

“The constant crosstalk and coordination between the garrison, camp task forces, and 21st TSC has been key in accomplishing multiple aspects of security,” Saldivar said. “The most imperative was finding the proper police forces distribution that would ensure the safety of not only our travelers but the community as a whole.”

Senior Master Sgt. Roy D. Lock, superintendent for operations and training for the 569th USFPS, said his unit’s mission is “significantly amplified” through the joint partnership with DES. “The relationship between our sister service functions has been exceptional,” Lock said.

“Before Operation Allies Welcome, we worked with and supported DES with daily law enforcement. The close ties and relationships built prior to the current operation were critical to the success of the ongoing operations,” said Maj. Justin Collins, operations officer for the 709th MP Battalion. “Soldiers leveraged those relationships to rapidly communicate emergency medical situations, request escorts and ensure the physical security of the various areas supporting over 5,000 travelers.”

The host nation has also been integral to the DES effort for Operation Allies Welcome. Lewis said this partnership between Germany and the United States has been indispensable.

“We have worked hand-in-hand ironing out the details of specific situations we’ve never dealt with prior to this,” Lewis said, noting that the Polizei have assisted with increased presence. “This has made our relationship with the Polizei stronger.”

Major Michael McCory Jr, 16th Sustainment Brigade executive officer, said supporting his unit’s troops was also crucial to success. “Everyone understands the importance of the mission and the impact we have on the lives of future Americans. The partnership with the garrison and its tenant units is highlighted through each other’s actions every day. I am very proud to be part of this community.”

The escort mission and what’s ahead

When travelers arrived from Afghanistan, they in-processed at Ramstein, and some stayed. Some, however, were driven six miles to the ROB camp in contracted buses, all supported by the security team. The DES-led process provides in-transit security for the travelers to ensure “safe passage in the event any criminal or terrorist acts are attempted, as well as ensuring we meet host-nation requirements and expectations during this process,” Lewis said.

To date, more than 190 off-base security escort missions between Ramstein and Rhine Ordnance Barracks for more than 15,000 travelers during Operation Allies Welcome have succeeded without a single incident to security or safety.

Soon, the remaining 9,000 or so travelers on Ramstein and ROB will fly away. They’ll travel on the same buses back to Ramstein and board aircraft to the United States. Lewis said there have been many high points to the operation but noted that a real win has been seeing all the Soldiers, civilians, and local-national employees coming together to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.

And though the first-time operation didn’t come with the pomp, circumstance, crushing hits, or flowing drinks of the Sugar Bowl, Lewis said the experience has been second-to-none. Meanwhile, they’ve done all of this while maintaining standard security and law enforcement operations in this overseas American community of more than 50,000.

“Seeing what our team was able to accomplish in such a short time frame reminds me of how great this collaborative team of teams really is,” Lewis said. “We have leaned on each other. We want to ensure we accomplish all aspects of the mission while maintaining security for the travelers and the community. It’s been a tremendous effort.”