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Andrew Wenk helped Afghan refugees fly to the U.S.; now he'll run the half marathon this weekend

Andrew Wenk helped Afghan refugees fly to the U.S.; now he'll run the half marathon this weekend

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The second Andrew Wenk read the email, he knew he needed to help.

This was no simple effort, though. Wenk was asked to assist with Operation Afghan Airlift, helping refugees out of the country as it fell to the Taliban in September.

He sat down with his wife Courtney, a physician, and they soon realized this was something that they had to do.

Three days later, Wenk boarded a plane bound for Frankfurt, Germany, and then on to Doha, Qatar, with the Medical Society of Virginia.

Wenk’s background as a pediatric ICU nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond landed him on a flight with families and children. The decision to help out was a no-brainer for him, as he’s spent more than 20 years in the medical field, beginning as a firefighter before becoming a nurse and paramedic.

“Going into the medical field, you provide service to others,” Wenk said. “You kind of get it ingrained in your lifestyle, providing service to others, and helping out in their time of need.”

By going on the trip, Wenk had to pause his training for the Richmond Half Marathon, which he’ll be running in this Saturday. He began running as a way to stay physically fit while a firefighter, but then stuck with the sport after he moved on in his career.

“I took it and used it as a stress relief,” Wenk said. “[It’s] also a good way to exercise and kind of reconnect with nature and try to reset yourself while being physically active.”

Wenk is a regular in the half marathon, but the circumstances this year are different, coming on the heels of his trip to Afghanistan.

Not only was the opportunity to provide care to the refugees something that called to him, but it was also a way to give back to those who assisted the U.S. military.

“Let’s try to help them because they helped our military personnel with either intel or helping them out doing their job when they were in Afghanistan,” Wenk said.

On the flights to Qatar, where they were going to pick up the refugees, Wenk and the rest of the flight crew tried to rest as much as possible. The return trip was set to be 16 hours of work onboard a United commercial airliner.

He was one of three medical personnel on the flight, joined by a doctor and a United paramedic. They also had an interpreter on the plane to help relay information from the refugees to those taking care of them.

Wenk said the main role for the medical personnel was to monitor the refugees, as many were dealing with symptoms of dehydration and motion sickness.

He called the trip “very rewarding,” as he helped give care to 340 refugees on the flight.

He added that the mood on the flight was positive, as many were leaving Afghanistan to begin a new journey in life.

“You could tell they were excited to be able to start a new new life, coming here to America,” Wenk said.


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