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Veterans Leverage Their Pro Bono Skills to Rise to the Call of Duty from Afar

By Carmen Dowell November 11, 2021

When the Afghanistan government fell to the Taliban just days after the U.S. and coalition forces withdrew their troops, Afghan allies that served alongside the U.S. and others had an extremely short window to flee their country. In order to be eligible for a spot on one of the few remaining flights out of the country, Afghan allies had to demonstrate their affiliation with allied organizations and navigate dangerous checkpoints. Afghans were frantically trying to make their way through the chaos to the airport while collecting the critical information needed to support their request to leave the country.

Military members with helicopters in the background
Allied Airlift is made up of veterans and volunteers who scoured open source intelligence reports to provide Afghan allies with critical information necessary to find a place aboard one of the limited U.S. Air Force aircrafts evacuating people from Afghanistan.

Veterans Called to Duty Digitally

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., veterans were receiving pleas for help from Afghans who served alongside the U.S. Government. True to their military training, the veterans quickly mobilized to help from afar. One group of West Point graduates came together to form a nonprofit organization, Allied Airlift 21 (AA21), which quickly grew to over 250 volunteers.

These volunteers, made up of veterans and concerned civilians, began working 24 hours a day, scouring open source intelligence reports to provide Afghan allies with critical information necessary to find a place aboard one of the limited U.S. Air Force aircrafts evacuating people from Hamid Karzai International Airport. Frank Brown, operations manager at AA21, shares, “It was frustrating and exhausting work — but worth it as we started racking up “wins” every time one of the Afghans we were helping was able to get out on a flight.”

Despite moving quickly, Allied Airlift 21 recognized that they were collecting sensitive, personally identifiable information, and keeping that data secure could mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, they knew that leveraging technology could increase their operational efficiency and allow them to serve more allies faster.

Salesforce Volunteers Mobilize

Thanks to Salesforce’s commitment to upskilling veterans and military spouses through our Salesforce Military program and our Vetforce employee resource group, Salesforce and the Salesforce ecosystem employs a large number of veterans. It is no surprise that a volunteer of Allied Airlift 21 realized that his former U.S. Air Force Academy classmate, Otis Hooper, now worked at Salesforce. Hooper quickly mobilized a team of volunteers with a wide variety of skills from across Salesforce.

One of those volunteers was Eric Bishop, a principal solution engineer at Salesforce, who ended up putting in long hours on the project. “Mr. Hooper reached out directly to me after he was contacted by AA21. I was heartbroken by what was happening in Afghanistan. I am a stalwart believer that we need to support our allies. I was thrilled to be able to support AA21 as they helped our allies. It was a way I could make a difference.” Brown recalls, “In less than 24 hours, we were on the phone with members of Vetforce to get a solution in place.”

Fast forward five days and the team of pro bono volunteers implemented Service Cloud and Slack, enabling Allied Airlift 21 volunteers to work with allies on the ground to navigate checkpoints and find a way out of the country. The pro bono volunteers migrated over 20,000 rows of data, created an intake form, and also created a workflow, enabling the Allied Airlift team to more efficiently manage cases and run reports.

Because the solution was built on Nonprofit Cloud and the household model, Allied Airlift 21 staff were able to provide comprehensive case management to entire families. “And, of course, on top of all that, we had the peace of mind that our data was secured and protected by Salesforce’s enterprise solution,” Brown said.

Brian Strandtman, VP of solution engineering at Salesforce and a U.S. Air Force veteran, was one of the first volunteers to raise his hand to help. “In assisting Allied Airlift 21, a group of Salesforce veteran volunteers was able to support our values of trust and innovation, while proudly giving back to a cause in support of freeing U.S. and Afghani citizens from tyranny. Giving back to an effort that resulted in over 753 evacuees reaching the U.S. helps solidify a sense of purpose that combines our veteran heritage and sense of global community with the skills and innovation we use everyday at Salesforce.”

The Allied Airlift 21 story is one of many examples of our employees using their skills to help organizations delivering life saving support to communities around the world. Learn more about the Salesforce Pro Bono Program and how your organization can benefit from our talented, passionate volunteers.

About the Author

Carmen Dowell, Director, Technology Investments at
Carmen Dowell
Director, Technology Investments at
Carmen partners with nonprofits to leverage technology to bring about greater change, through her work at She is also passionate about responsible execution of corporate philanthropy with an emphasis on how the public and private sectors can partner for maximum impact. Connect with her on LinkedIn.