Two Eagle Scouts are among the 20 U.S. Department of State special agents being honored for their evacuation and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan last summer.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) has recognized special agents Roger Thyen and David Fleming, both Eagle Scouts, with the Heroism Award, the highest honor the FLEOA presents each year.
The FLEOA’s Heroism Award goes to a federal law enforcement officer who has risked or sacrificed his or her own life. It is not to be confused with the BSA’s own Heroism Award.
The agents are being recognized for their efforts in evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and the Hamid Karzai International Airport as the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.
Thyen, Fleming and the other agents were serving as members of the regional security office when they were tasked with planning and executing one of the largest noncombatant evacuation operations in U.S. history, according to a DSS news release.
“In less than 48 hours, the RSO team executed a plan that had been designed to take weeks,” according to the release. “They destroyed tens of thousands of classified and sensitive documents, computer equipment, armored vehicles and weapons to prevent them from falling into the Taliban’s control. They cleared the embassy, room by room, while also helping 1,400 people at the U.S. embassy evacuate to HKIA.”
Once at the airport, the agents continued to provide protection to state department personnel tasked with evacuating American citizens and at-risk Afghans.
Thyen, who earned the rank of Eagle as a member of the Transatlantic Council when he was living in Munich, Germany, in 1984, says the compressed nature of their operation is a great example of the Scout motto in action.
“This is where the Be Prepared thing comes into play,” he says. “Everybody was thinking an operation like this would take maybe 6 months to a year. When I first got there, I said, ‘Worst-case scenario, let’s plan how we could do it in 30 days right now.’ Then that plan got compressed from 30 days to about 12 hours.”
In these situations, the special agents’ jobs are to protect the people, property and information of the U.S. government.
Fleming, who earned the rank of Eagle in 1997 as a Scout in Oregon City, Oregon, was one of the last people to leave the embassy.
“After all non-security personnel had been airlifted to the airport, my team and I worked to quickly but methodically shutter the embassy compound, one section at a time prior to our own departure,” he says.
— Chargé d’Affaires Karen Decker (@USAmbKabul) August 22, 2021
Eagle Scout David Fleming, second from left in the above photo, next to former ambassador Ross Wilson (far left), in Afghanistan on August 22, 2021
Once they made it to the Kabul airport, the agents continued to face daily threats as they protected U.S. officials in charge of the evacuation.
According to the award citation, “Under threat of imminent danger and dynamic circumstances that evolved minute by minute, surrounded by the adversity of both a seen and unseen enemy that wanted nothing more than to thwart their efforts and harm all those in their care, these DSS agents … recovered U.S. citizens stranded throughout Afghanistan, as well as provided safe passage for over 4,000 local embassy staff from Kabul.”
On August 26, 2021, a suicide bombing at the airport killed more than 180 people, including 13 members of the U.S. military.
Thyen says their medical training paid off, as they helped provide emergency first aid on many of the victims.
“Our training was very helpful in that situation: triage, immediately treating a massive loss of blood … medical events like that,” he says. “We rarely have to put that into practice, which is fortunate. But we have to be prepared for that kind of response anywhere at any point in time.”
It took around two weeks to complete the evacuation from the airport.
Scouting showed the way
Fleming, who spent a couple of summers in high school working at Oregon’s Camp Meriwether, says Scouting helped instill in him a sense of service that guides and influences him to this day.
“It was this love of country and a desire to serve that led me to join the Marine Corps after high school,” he says. “It led me into a career in local and federal law enforcement that has spanned more than 20 years and continues to this day.
“I believe it was striving to live a life in accordance with the ideals listed in the Scout Law that helped make my chosen career a successful one.”
Fleming is no longer with the U.S. State Department, but remains in federal law enforcement working as a special agent in the Seattle area.
Thyen has continued to be involved in Scouting as an adult volunteer. He has volunteered with the Transatlantic Council and the World Scout Movement, helped some Lone Scouts stay engaged with the BSA and even starting a Cub Scout pack from scratch in Zagreb, Croatia.
He is now back in the United States, serving as the Resident Agent in Charge of Diplomatic Security’s Minneapolis office, and volunteering as a leader for his son’s Scouts BSA troop and his daughter’s Cub Scout pack.
“I believe the values of the Scouting movement — duty to God, country, others and self, guided by the example of selfless and cheerful service — remain as important now to kids and young adults as they’ve ever been,” he says. “When push comes to shove and you get involved in a situation like I was in, you kind of fall back on that. It meant a lot to me to be able to help other people at all times. To do what I could. And that’s what I want to teach my kids.”