Veteran determined to help allies flee Afghanistan

MILWAUKEE— A Wisconsin veteran helps those who helped him on his tour of Afghanistan.

Zac Lois is a former Green Beret and US Army Special Forces Captain. His family still lives in the cabin where he grew up spending his summers in Burlington.

“I didn’t expect to be sitting here doing that,” said Lois, wearing a Packers t-shirt.

After serving 12 years in the military, Lois accepted a position as a history teacher. He teaches social studies in eighth grade in Syracuse, New York.

“I would probably teach post-civil war reconstruction right now,” he said.

For now, his students will have to wait.

Lois is on indefinite leave as he works with a group of other highly trained veterans to get as many American allies out of Afghanistan as possible.

“These are the people with whom we lived, with whom we fought for years and with whom we stayed in contact,” he said. “We owe it to them. “

Lois is part of a complex operation called Task Force Pineapple. The group is made up of hundreds of veterans like him, many of whom served in Afghanistan during the conflict, who are struggling to get American allies out of Afghanistan. He found the group coincidentally after his inquiries with the State Department and Congress went largely unanswered.

“I was in my cabin in Wisconsin and posted on LinkedIn and said, ‘It’s a Hail Mary, but does anyone know how to get people out of Afghanistan ? ‘ He remembers. “One of the founding members of the Pineapple Task Force sent me a direct message.”

The 2006 UW-La Crosse alum credited his love of history with guiding him to a crucial solution, with the goal of helping US citizens and their allies escape, primarily via the airport from Kabul. He remembered a poster hanging in his Harriet Tubman classroom.

“When we looked at the problem at the Kabul airport, how to get people in and how to navigate the Taliban checkpoints, that’s what came to my mind,” he said. . “I said, ‘What if we take an Underground Railroad approach? “

To date, Task Force Pineapple has removed more than 1,000 controlled allies from the Taliban-controlled country. The accomplishment is clouded by the 5,000 people still on the Pineapple Task Force’s list.

“It’s heartbreaking to get all the messages and to know that we don’t have the logistics to get everyone through,” Lois said.

Eighty-five percent of those on this list are high-value targets, meaning they will be killed if the Taliban find them. They include military, journalists, and LGBTQ and women’s rights advocates. Many of them, especially the military, did not have time to gather the necessary papers to leave the country before the Taliban took power.

“They put their lives in danger for the past 20 years for us and they knew the consequences,” he said. “I plan to continue working until at least all Americans come home.”

During their escape, the allies selected on the list are in daily contact with a volunteer from Task Force Pineapple. Known as the “Shepherd,” this veteran makes sure the fleeing family has food, water, medical supplies when needed and safe places to hide along his route. evacuation. The Pineapple Task Force is actively caring for about 800 families, Lois said.

It is not safe for these allies to have a job or to be in the community.

Getting money to them has also become a problem, as the Taliban monitors whether money market funds enter banks through the United States.

“Money is king,” Lois said.

More than 100 US citizens and green card holders have yet to flee Afghanistan. In total, more than 100,000 people are still trying to flee.

Lois said Task Force Pineapple’s full roster is made up of highly educated people, who deserve to live full lives once they leave their home countries.

“We want to work across the spectrum not only to make these people safe, but also to free them and have happy lives,” Lois said. “Some of them will go to refugee camps, some of them will go to other countries and some of them will come to the United States.”

Lois added that the process does not end when these Afghans arrive in their new country. Most of them speak English, have leadership skills and technical skills to get better paying jobs.

“My interpreter went to school in Afghanistan for IT and obviously speaks English because he was my interpreter,” Lois said. “He is someone who can immediately make an impact on American society.”

The Pineapple Task Force has several “cells”, each with a different area of ​​expertise. A cell works with Afghan refugees when they arrive in their new country. the.

The people on the Pineapple Task Force list are all approved by the State Department.

The group depends only on donations to function. Click here, or here to donate to the Pineapple Task Force mission. They are also looking for volunteers.

About Hector Hedgepeth

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