Among the hundreds of people crowded onto a departing Air Force plane on Sunday hoping to escape the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was a small boy, cold and tired.
A widely circulated photo shows what happened next: A U.S. airman gave the child his uniform to keep warm as the boy slept.
The gesture drew praise from military leaders and underlined the stakes of the ongoing evacuation efforts out of Kabul, the Afghan capital.
“The bravery & adaptability displayed by Total Force Mobility Airmen over the past few days is awe-inspiring,” 创. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, the commander of Air Mobility Command, tweeted on 周三.
“I’m impressed by the courageous, can-do spirit & proud to serve alongside them as we live our vision,” Ovost wrote. “Projecting Decisive Strength & Delivering Hope…Always! #ProudtoBe.”
The chief master sergeant of the Air Force, JoAnne S. Bass, tells PEOPLE she was moved by the moment.
“Our airmen did a seemingly small act, but it wasn’t really a small act, 对?” Bass says. “It was actually something that is very big and that image will last for generations to come. But we have ordinary airmen every day doing extraordinary things, whether it’s in Afghanistan, in Haiti fighting wildfires … or whether they’re at COVID vaccination sites.”
The uniform was offered by Airman First Class Nicolas Baron, a C-17 loadmaster, 人们确认. The photo was taken by Air Force 1st Lt. Mark Lawson. (The crew for their flight remained in transit and unavailable for further comment.)
The boy was one of some 640 passengers aboard a C-17 that left Kabul for Qatar on Sunday, an Air Force spokeswoman says. It was unclear who the unidentified boy was traveling with, though it is understood that children must be accompanied to evacuate.
The flight the boy was on had already made headlines because the crew decided to leave with numerous more passengers than they were expecting after hundreds of people who had been cleared to leave Kabul flooded into the plane.
The Defense Department previously confirmed to PEOPLE that there were 640 people on board. According to the Air Force, the plane is designed to hold 102 troops/paratroops, 36 litter and 54 ambulatory patients and attendants and 170,900 磅. of cargo.
Defense One 报道说 while the C-17 wasn’t built to hold so many passengers, people boarded via a half-open ramp before the aircraft took off.
The flight is believed to have carried among the most passengers ever on a military cargo plane.
An official told Defense One that “the crew made the decision to go,” after the large group of Afghans who had been cleared began pulling themselves through the ramp.
The evacuation of U.S. citizens, allies and refugees is ongoing in Kabul.
While the Biden administration has faced criticism for its handling of the operation, they have vowed to help as many people depart the country as possible.
* With VIRGINIA CHAMLEE