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Airman who helped with Afghan evacuations donates blouse from iconic photo

Rachel Nostrant

In this now-iconic photo, an Afghan child sleeps on the cargo floor of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III carrying 823 refugees, kept warm by the Airman 1st Class Nicolas Baron
An airman has donated the utilities blouse off his back to the National History Museum of the U.S. Air Force in the hopes of memorializing Operation Allies Refuge.
Enlarge Airman First Class Nicholas Baron, 305th Air Mobility Wing Loadmaster, holds his blouse...

Airman First Class Nicholas Baron, 305th Air Mobility Wing Loadmaster, holds his blouse for the last time before donating it to the National History Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Oct. 12, 2021. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sergeant Shay Stuart)

The blouse, which belonged to Airman 1st Class Nicolas Baron, was seen draped over a sleeping Afghan child aboard a C-17 Globemaster III in an iconic photo from the August Afghan refugee evacuations in Kabul.

There were more than 800 Afghan evacuees aboard the Aug. 15 flight when the photo was taken.

“My blouse had fallen from where I’d hung it up and as I was focusing on my tasks, a mother picked it up and laid it across her child to help keep them warm,” Baron said in an Air Force press release.

“It was heartwarming to see.”

Operation Allies Refuge was the United States’ operation to evacuate its Afghan allies — including Afghan citizens who served alongside U.S. troops on the ground — from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

The National History Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, has been collecting items from the airlift operation even before the last U.S. troops had left the country, Stuart Lockhart, historian for the 305th Air Mobility Wing said in the press release.

According to the press release, they specifically requested Baron’s blouse.

“It’s funny, I think any Airman would look at this and say, ‘It’s just a common OCP blouse’, but it’s the piece that is so recognizable,” Lockhart said in the release. “In the early phases of this operation all that we were hearing on the news was how bad the situation was and then to have this touching image come out of just a simple humanitarian gesture, it made such an impression on our country and our world.

Baron, a loadmaster assigned to the 305th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, said that he joined the Air Force with the goal of being part of something bigger and for him, being part of Operation Allies Refuge did just that.

“I think the blouse gives a sense of hope no matter who they are or where they’re from...It makes me feel proud [of our mission] and of the crew,” he said.

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is currently hosting thousands of displaced Afghan refugees in its temporary living quarters.


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