Just as the “Little Ships of Dunkirk” brought home their British soldiers and French Allies during WWII, C-17s (among others) are bringing home ours.
The many small British ships that assisted the Royal Navy have become the symbol of plucky resistance in the face of Nazi strength. Using paddle steamers, pleasure yachts, trawlers, shrimpers, crabbers, and tugboats, as historian Angus Calder writes, to “bring the boys home.”
Now, amid the chaos in Afghanistan, those in need of saving aren’t relying on boats, but texts and social media posts.
In what has been dubbed the “Digital Dunkirk” and the “Lance Corporal Underground Railroad,” U.S. veterans, service members, and other members of the public are taking up the mantle to provide paths for our Afghan allies past the “gauntlet” of Taliban forces and into safety at the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
With the U.S. government seemingly failing to provide adequate administrative and logistical support necessary to evacuate tens of thousands of Afghan allies and their families, American veterans and civilians are now filling the void, providing ad hoc evacuation routes for Afghan men, women, and children.
Never change Reg. pic.twitter.com/GugJPQMEsk
— Phil (@BO3673) August 26, 2021
“We just built this network to figure out who’s going to get my buddy through the gate [at the Kabul airport],” Mike Jason, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told Foreign Policy. “And we just realized, there are a ton of other people doing it too.”
According to Foreign Policy, a network of West Point graduates has set up a website called Allied Airlift 21 with step-by-step guidance for Afghans looking to get out.
Other veterans have taken to digital media to coordinate safe routes for individuals to arrive at the right place at the right time at the Hamid Karzai International Airport so that Marines and other service members on the ground can identify them and get them through.
Veteran-produced podcasts like zeroblog30 have been leading the charge, sharing tips, contacts, and the pleas of veterans and Afghans alike.
From a Rhode Island suburb, Major Thomas Schueman, a Marine infantry officer and Afghanistan war veteran, has worked tirelessly in the past week to rescue his former translator, Zak, from the Taliban’s clutches.
“He wasn’t just a translator, he was my brother, basically one of my Marines,” Schueman told “Nightline.” “I have a lifelong commitment to the people I serve and lead.”
For five years Schueman has been trying to help Zak obtain a visa to the U.S.
“I think it’s a very simple transaction. You serve with U.S. forces and we will provide you a visa,” Schueman said. “He served with U.S. forces, we did not provide the visa. I think that’s a betrayal.”
According to the volunteer organization No One Left Behind, since 2001 more than 300 interpreters and their family members have been targeted and killed because of their ties to the United States.
In recent days, as Afghanistan rapidly fell under Taliban rule, Schueman feverishly worked to get Zak, his wife, and their four young children to safety.
After initially being forced back by gunfire, “another Afghan, Milad, was contacted through social media and volunteered to drive Zak and his family to the airport,” writes Coffee or Die. “While Milad was trying to get Zak and his family to the right gate, the Taliban executed Milad’s father-in-law as retribution. Undeterred, Milad drove Zak’s family again the following day and got them to the right gate, thanks to coordination with troops on the ground.”
Countless other stories like Zak’s are making the news, and rightly so.
U.S. veterans have been working tirelessly and are pulling off incredible feats to save Afghans, yet the terrifying reality remains that a text or a phone call is the difference between life and death in Kabul.
For those looking to help, here are additional resources for aiding the evacuation and providing basic necessities to Afghan refugees.
*The reality of Dunkirk was that the crews of the pleasure steamers and fishing vessels were members of the Royal Naval Reserve. Few British Expeditionary Forces owed their passage from Dunkirk to little boats with civilian volunteers, yet the feel-good story of the “Little Ships” saving Britain endures.