Master Sgt. Kevin Haunschild thought his 2021 deployment with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit would be a typical one.
A seasoned air traffic controller who previously had deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, he was the senior enlisted Marine for the group of controllers in the unit.
But then he and other Marines from the unit flew into Kabul for what would become the largest noncombatant evacuation in military history.
As civilian air traffic controllers departed the airport, it was up to Haunschild and his team of Marines — and, as time went on, some airmen as well — to coordinate the arrivals and departures of aircraft, many of which carried evacuees.
And they succeeded, handling about 110 flights per day with no aircraft mishaps.
In January, Haunschild received a Bronze Star for his efforts coordinating air traffic — and for his quick thinking and leadership in rescuing a civilian contractor.
At first, only four Marines from the air control detachment arrived in Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 13, 2021. Two days later, the Taliban took over the city, plunging the airport into chaos.
That day, an Afghan plane with a blown tire had to abort its takeoff, obstructing the runway, according to a news release announcing his Bronze Star.
Along with three other service members, Haunshchild jumped into a pickup truck while Afghans were running out of the aircraft. They attached straps to the plane and towed it off the runway.
Later that day, Haunschild had to rescue an Afghan air traffic controller who was stranded with important radio equipment in a crowd of people that included both Afghans desperate to flee and some members of the Taliban.
Haunschild and a soldier wove their way through the crowd, bringing body armor to the civilian and taking him back to their truck.
On the drive back, their truck was sprayed with small-arms fire. Because it was from an unknown source in a crowd filled with civilians, Haunschild said, they couldn’t return fire.
But they managed to drive the civilian and his radio equipment to safety.
Over the coming days, Haunschild and the other Marines from his detachment monitored the skies nonstop, except for occasional short naps. Those first two nights, they came under gunfire multiple times, Haunschild recalled.
Once 10 more troops from Marine Air Control Group-28 flew in on Aug. 17, 2021, the Marine air traffic controllers worked, with just a tailgate-style tent to protect them from the sun, in 12-hour shifts.
“That’s a long time to control aircraft, especially with the amount of aircraft that was coming in and out of the airport,” Capt. Zackary Dahl, the officer in charge of the element, previously told Marine Corps Times.
In interviews with Marine Corps Times, Haunschild was humble about his own accomplishments and extremely proud of his Marines’ work.
The evacuation of Kabul remains controversial as a matter of strategy and policy. But Haunschild stressed his appreciation for the work the individual Marines and other U.S. troops did on the ground.
“They did a phenomenal job for what they had to work with,” he said.
U.S. troops in Kabul led an evacuation of more than 124,000 at-risk Afghans and U.S. citizens. Although the Air Force spearheaded the effort, more than 2,000 Marines were also involved on the ground, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
A Texas native, Haunschild enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004. He had tried college, but it didn’t work out, and the Marine Corps was something he had always wanted to do, he told Marine Corps Times.
Haunschild is the senior air traffic controller at Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, according to service-record information provided by Marine spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Haley Pratt.
Apart from his Bronze Star, the master sergeant has received the Meritorious Service Medal; the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal; the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, twice; the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, six times; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, twice; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, five times; the Navy Arctic Service Ribbon; the Humanitarian Service Medal, three times; the Korea Defense Service Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, twice; the NATO Medal-Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan; a letter of appreciation, seven times; the NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan; and a Certificate of Commendation, once for his unit and once for him individually.
“Master Sgt. Haunschild doesn’t give himself credit for the things that he does, because he is a super cool dude,” said Gunnery Sgt. Julio JoseMendez, another air traffic controller who deployed to Kabul in 2021. “He doesn’t take any bulls--t, he’ll tell you things how they are. He’s just a Texas boy, and he loves a simple life.”
Staff Sgt. Ian Chryst, another of the Marine air traffic controllers who was on Haunschild’s team, said in the news release about the Bronze Star that the master sergeant was a great mentor and selfless leader.
“He could lead me into a burning pit and I’d follow him right in,” he said.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.