In September of 2022, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) announced that 20 special agents with the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) received FLEOA’s 2021 National Award for Heroism for their actions securing and evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, and subsequent humanitarian operations at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). The Heroism Award is the highest honor that FLEOA presents each year.
FLEOA will present the Heroism Award to the following DSS special agents at its bi-annual awards ceremony: Benjamin Sides, Nolan Blanchette, Ryan Bos, Nick Brewington, Dave Fleming, Chad Hammer, Paul Hendricks, Star Hy, James Mulligan, Justin Peele, Roger Thyen, Lorne Alston, Leonin Celedonio, Christopher Gillis, John Hicks, Benjamin Horner, Matthew Kupec, Erik Nelson, Ryan Schiesser, and Marc Wint.
According to the award nomination package, as the Taliban began their final push towards Kabul in August of 2021, members of the regional security office (RSO) at the U.S. embassy were forced to plan and execute a contingency operation that became one of the largest noncombatant evacuation operations in U.S. history. In less than 48 hours, the RSO team executed a plan that had been designed to take weeks. They destroyed tens of thousands of classified and sensitive documents, computer equipment, armored vehicles, and weapons to prevent them from falling into the Taliban’s control. They cleared the embassy, room by room, while also helping 1,400 people at the U.S. embassy evacuate to HKIA.
As the last people to leave the U.S. embassy, the DSS special agents then assumed security posts at HKIA to prevent State Department personnel from being attacked. Facing hostile fire, tear gas, attacks, and a persistent, overwhelming mob, these agents provided 24/7 protection for consular officers, ambassadors, and others as they worked to conduct diplomacy and evacuate Americans, lawful permanent residents, and at-risk Afghans, and stood side-by-side with U.S. Marines to secure the airport gates. Additionally, these agents were the first line of the vetting process, and due to their training and expertise, were able to recognize and validate travel and identity documents that allowed individuals to evacuate Afghanistan. Their actions allowed their consular colleagues to process hundreds of thousands of individuals who fled the country.
According to the award citation, “Under threat of imminent danger and dynamic circumstances that evolved minute by minute, surrounded by the adversity of both a seen and unseen enemy that wanted nothing more than to thwart their efforts and harm all those in their care, these DSS agents provided security and protection during one of the largest evacuation and rescue operations the United States has ever conducted. They recovered U.S. citizens stranded throughout Afghanistan, as well as provided safe passage for over 4,000 local embassy staff from Kabul…. They should be commended and honored for their actions.”
For their heroic actions in Afghanistan in 2021, the DSS regional security office team also received the U.S. Department of State’s Heroism Award in August of 2022.
DSS has the largest global presence of any U.S. law enforcement organization, operating at more than 270 U.S. diplomatic posts in over 170 countries, and in 33 U.S. cities. The organization is responsible for providing a secure environment for U.S. diplomacy and investigating transnational crimes worldwide.
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