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Alaska Airman embraces Operation Allies Welcome mission

  • Published
  • By Spc. Grace Nechanicky,
  • Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Airman 1st Class Jessicah Sharp, an Alaska Air National Guard aerospace medical technician with the 168th Medical Group at Eielson Air Force Base, volunteered to support Operation Allies Welcome this fall. The opportunity to serve at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was her first real-world mission since joining the Air Guard in February 2020.

Sharp, a flight attendant in her civilian life, had waited years for an opportunity to participate in a humanitarian mission like OAW – a coordinated effort by federal government agencies to provide safe, temporary communities and resettlement to recently evacuated vulnerable Afghan refugees. According to her, the wait paid off.

Her initial interest in participating in humanitarian missions was inspired by her civilian career. The training, which she has gone through twice for two airline companies, and the day-to-day work involves a lot more than many people might realize.

“I would say it’s very close to what you learn to become an [emergency medical technician],” she said. “We learned to handle medical emergencies if they arise, we learn how to put out fires, we spend a lot of time learning how to evacuate the aircraft so we can get everyone out safely if we crash or have an emergency. We learn a lot of security things and some self-defense as well.”

After aiding in a string of medical emergencies as a flight attendant, she considered joining the Air National Guard in a medical position.

“I believe that I handled [the on-flight emergencies] really well and I just kind of liked being the person to help people in need,” she explained. “So, I waited for this job that I got in the Guard; it’s the only job that I really wanted.”

After initially deciding to join in 2019, it was a year until the aerospace medical technician position became available. Once she filled the slot, there was still nearly a year of training to complete before drilling with her unit at Eielson Air Force Base.

“The first phase was five months, the second phase was a little under two months, and the third phase was 30 days,” she said. “This was all after two months of basic training.”

In June, when she returned to Alaska, she drilled with her unit for a single weekend before eagerly joining the OAW mission.

“Even though she was fairly new to the unit – just back from [Air Force Technical] school – we were still able to get her out there because we knew it would be a great experience,” said Chief Master Sgt. Carrie Stokes, the senior enlisted leader for the 168th Medical Group.

Sharp and her medical dispatch team at OAW were responsible for ensuring all incoming refugees could make it to their medical appointments to receive needed care and vaccinations.

“We were hoping she’d be able to get some practice for her career field, and she was one of the lucky ones who did,” said Stokes. “It was a great opportunity to get real-world mission experience since we’re a small medical unit.”

While supporting OAW from Sept. 10 to Oct. 30, Sharp worked with a team that helped move sick patients to medical isolation, delivered supplies to people, ensured patients knew where and when to go to medical appointments, and fit women for shoes and winter gear.

“One day, we had a few women come in for their vaccinations, and they needed females to do it and for it to be done in private,” she said. “They were just really thankful we were there to assist them, and I think that was the most rewarding moment of being there.”

Although she loves her job as a flight attendant, Sharp said it was for moments like where she had the opportunity to serve others in a different capacity that she decided to join the National Guard.

“There’s a lot of heavy things going on in our country and in the world,” she said. “Just seeing how comfortable the kids felt around us and how safe everyone was around us – it made me feel really proud to be an American. I think we should also feel really grateful because it could be you, it could be me, but it’s not.”

Sharp said she would love to return if given the chance.

“I will have my name on the list to go back if it’s an option,” she said. “I wanted to do humanitarian missions when I joined. This was the full extreme of that, and this is history that is unfolding.”