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St. Louis native flying Americans, Afghans out of Kabul after attack at airport

Some of the people Captain Photinos and her crew have saved could eventually land in St. Louis. She hopes her hometown will be ready for that part of the mission

ST. LOUIS — Evacuation flights continue out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, despite deadly attacks there Thursday. 

One of the Air Force pilots still flying those rescue missions despite the danger is a reservist from Missouri.

Captain CJ Photinos was in St. Louis visiting family early last week when she got the call to deploy. Two days later, she was in the middle of the largest airlift operation in U.S. history. 

Now, after the deadliest day in a decade for the U.S. in Afghanistan, she's pushing forward with her mission.

"These days are long," said the Air Force Reservist. "Turn it and burn, that really is the best way to put it."

Since she first touched down in the middle of history, Captain Photinos has spent much of her time back in the air.

The Francis Howell High grad is a crew commander on a C-17 Globemaster, the Air Force planes lifting thousands of Americans and refugees out of Afghanistan.

"We're doing most of the heavy lifting out here," said Capt. Photinos.  "For them to pretty much call up every C-17 squadron to put in work out here is really something."

Photinos hasn't had time to count how many people she and her crew have rescued, and she's not allowed to say how many missions she's flown.

But the flight time from Kabul to their safe zone is about three hours. And with two other pilots on board they are cleared to fly for 26 hours straight.

"We're using like every minute of that 26 hours to do what we have to do," she said by phone during a brief break between flights.

And her mission continues despite the risks the world saw at the Kabul airport on Thursday. 

"Those feelings are still pretty raw and hard to process for everyone here right now," Photinos said.

"I think everyone here right now, it's kind of like just put your head down and work, just like do the work to get as many people safely out as possible," she said.

Some of the people Photinos and her crew have saved could eventually land in St. Louis. She hopes her hometown will be ready for that part of the mission. 

"It's just a really good time to remember how to be a human being and how to have compassion and empathy," she said. "So many of these passengers got on our plane with like one shoe and the clothes on their back."

"Just love your neighbor and just accept them in your communities because that they're fleeing from something terrifying. And that's the best we can do."

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