NORFOLK, Va. –
In early August 2021, Lt. Col. Gary Kinsey, U.S. Army Reserve, temporarily stepped aside from his regular duties as director of the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC) Reserve Forces Directorate (J9) after volunteering to join a team of 12 Joint Planning Support Element planners in Afghanistan, who, along with nine Joint Communication Support Element tactical communication specialists, supported what would become the largest noncombatant evacuation of its kind in U.S. military history.
Just over two weeks into the mission, Kinsey and his teammates found themselves surrounded by Taliban fighters within the last place of refuge in the entire country, Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Massive crowds of diplomats, American citizens, and Afghans with their families who were allied with American and NATO forces during the last two decades were desperately trying to gain access to the airport from every side. Kinsey had to find ways to materially support the massive influx of evacuees in the deteriorating situation as they were vetted and prepared for departure.
On the afternoon of Aug. 26, 2021, he was working with the Marines of Task Force 51-5 to maintain control over the airport’s Abbey Gate checkpoint when someone detonated the explosive vest he was wearing, killing 13 American service members and over 150 of the thousands of Afghans clamoring to enter through the checkpoint. Kinsey was one of about 45 U.S. service members wounded in the Islamic State suicide bombing.
"In spite of the trauma, the chaos, the confusion, Lt. Col. Kinsey protected those around him and returned multiple times to the location of the explosion," said Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of the United States Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, who traveled to Norfolk on Tuesday to present Kinsey with the Purple Heart medal he earned for that day.
“He could have taken stock of the extent of his injuries and sought medical care,” said Van Ovost. "In that scenario, we would still honor Lt. Col. Kinsey for his conduct in Operation Allies Welcome. The Purple Heart is awarded to those wounded at the hands of the enemy. But this is a passive description that doesn’t begin to capture Gary’s actions in the moments that followed."
"Gary, like many others, disregarded the immediate concerns of his personal safety and wellbeing to ensure his brothers and sisters were properly cared for," she continued. "In the aftermath of the violence, he rendered acts of courage commensurate with his rank, experience, and the values of the U.S. Army, to distinguish himself. So, while the Purple Heart is a reflection of the pain inflicted upon Gary, in the most challenging of situations, let us recognize that in the moment, he chose to act. His commitment to those around him earned him the right to wear this medal."
After being presented his Purple Heart, as well as the Bronze Star for his actions as a member of Joint Task Force-Crisis Response, Kinsey remarked, "Serving here at the JECC and under TRANSCOM has been the best experience in my 26 years of military service."
"I volunteered for this mission and knew the risk, but I also knew the reward of helping so many people who needed our help."