Ohio Veterans help Afghan refugees escape the Taliban

Published: Nov. 26, 2021 at 11:06 PM CST
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STARK COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - Ever since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of people have tried desperately to escape the repressive regime.

“You’ve seen the images,” said Ohio Veteran, Matt Carpenter. “You saw people falling from planes. They were willing to do that to try to get out of that place so that alone should show you the level of desperation that we’re facing.”

Matt Carpenter and Rick Stockburger served in Afghanistan in 2010.

The Ohio Army National Guard veterans worked closely with many Afghan combat interpreters during their time overseas.

“We understood that when we came home, we were coming home to this, a safe place and that they weren’t coming home, they were gonna continue the mission over and over again,” said Carpenter. “Everywhere we went right there by our side, like an extension of us. They weren’t carrying a weapon, but they were wearing a U.S. uniform you know they lived with us. They went on every combat mission we went on, they slept in the trucks with us.”

Carpenter is now a Canton history teacher, but he kept in touch with his friends in Afghanistan.

“Those messages increasingly got more and more scary,” Carpenter recalled. “All of our friends were afraid. All of our friends had every right to be afraid. They were witnessing things that were terrible.”

Carpenter and Stockburger hadn’t seen each other in years, but they both knew they had to do something.

“We kind of all bumped into each other because we were all screaming the same things on social media,” said Carpenter. “We all just kind of had this moment where we were like wait a minute, we’re all working on the same thing, we should do this together and we started pooling our resources together. It really became like a military mission. We were running it 24 hours a day.”

Stockburger and Carpenter were able to coordinate their allies’ escape remotely from their homes in Ohio, using nothing more than their cell phones, Google maps, and Facebook messenger.

“A lot of folks were updating maps regularly as to where Taliban checkpoints were so live updating and so a lot of the work that we would do would be to take those maps and then send them to our guys,” explained Stockburger.

When the U.S. government wouldn’t help, the veterans reached out to their contacts in Hungary.

“At the end of the day you know it took a couple combat veterans that weren’t willing, frankly were too dumb to quit,” Stockburger said.

The Hungarian government agreed to send a special forces team to Kabul.

“We had them manifested to fly out a week almost before they were able to get in the gates so every day it was go back, we know it was terrible, we know you’re gonna have to go through Taliban checkpoints we’re gonna have to ask you to do this again,” Carpenter said. “We’re gonna have to ask you to sleep outside right with the Taliban in front of you. We’re gonna have to ask you watch all of this take place because if you leave there’s no other evacuation point, this is the only one.”

On the morning of Aug. 23, the veterans got a message from their Afghan friends telling them they were safe and had made it to the airport.

Less than 24 hours later, a suicide bomber attacked the same airport.

“I thought about my friends and the fact that they weren’t gonna be stuck in Afghanistan, but we knew others were still,” Carpenter said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a happier day in my life other than when I got married and when my kids were born then when we got the message that they were in the gates,” said Stockburger.

The veterans were able to help more than 150 Afghan nationals and their families to safety in Hungary.

“The night before they got out you know one of our guys his daughter had gotten trampled and so he had to rush her to the hospital,” recalled Stockburger. “Thank God she was alright but he had to rush her to the hospital and spent his last dollars on the hospital bill and a taxi to get back to the gate and he was very fortunate he got back to the gate right as we got them in frankly through a sewer next to the abbey gate with Hungarian special forces you know that was his last dollar like he had a house, he had a car, like he had a life and now he is in a new country as a refugee.”

So, the Ohio vets started a nonprofit; Veterans Enduring Freedom.

“They’re not gonna have access to the same level of healthcare and mental healthcare that we have here and it’s a tragedy all around. It’s gonna be a very long tragedy. It’s not gonna end when people do get to safety,” Carpenter said.

A lot of the funds raised have gone towards everything from helping the refugees with food and shelter, to paying legal fees so they can get passports.

If you’d like to donate to their nonprofit, click here.

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