When armed Taliban terrorists invaded Camp Anjuman, a British security compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 28, civilian contractor and retired Air Force officer Kathy Lawhon wasted no time in rallying around the survivors.
Six people were killed and 32 others injured when a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb at the entrance to Camp Anjuman, which houses British security company G4S, then stormed the compound.
Following the explosion, which could be heard throughout the city, security guards and Afghan security forces engaged the attackers, Kabul Police Chief Basir Mujahid told ABC News. The militants tried to destroy everything they could inside the camp.
About 200 people were in the compound at the time of the attack, and survivors were evacuated into the adjacent NATO-managed Hamid Karzai International Airport, where Lawhon took them under her wing, according to an Eglin Air Force Base news release.
“The evacuees were not American, but it didn’t make a difference to us,” Lawhon said in the release. “There is good-natured cooperation between all of the allied forces. They needed us so we found a way to help them."
As a retired Air Force officer, Lawhon — now known as “The Iron Lady” because of her tenacity in the face of the emergency — had 24 years of active-duty experience before becoming the housing branch chief at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. She later deployed to HKIA as a civilian for 18 months as the U.S. site manager.
Lawhon’s efforts to help the evacuees resulted in her being coined by Gen. Scott Miller, the head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The attack, which occurred as temperatures were in the low 30s, saw survivors escaping with only what they had on them, said Col. Bill Courtemanche, deputy base commander of HKIA at the time of the attack. Many left without shoes, coats or even pants in the frigid weather. In the rush to escape, there was no time to collect personal belongings, he said in the release.
“Our base was already at max capacity, so logistics were challenging to say the least. We pulled together enough infrastructure to provide the evacuees with cots in tents and feed them, but we had no supplies to provide personal provisions," Courtemanche said.
Lawhon immediately jumped into action knowing that just having some place to sleep wasn’t enough for the evacuees. She immediately put out calls for donations and supplies from around the base. As one of the most well-known people on base, there was no one better positioned to achieve success through “a spontaneous call for humanitarian collection of personal items,” Courtemanche said.
“Her actions led a hasty collection of all kinds of clothing, toiletries, blankets and footwear for personnel,” he said.
Many of the people from the other 35 nations represented on the base rallied around Lawhon in support of her humanitarian efforts, Courtemanche said.
“Her spirit of compassion made her a truly unsung hero that night,” Courtemanche said. “The amount of supplies she was able to muster in such a short time is a testament to her character. So many people knew Kathy, regarded her with the utmost respect, and didn’t hesitate to offer help," he said.
The survivors lost everything in the attack. Buildings had to be torn down, destroying personal belongings, including important documentation and passports in the process, leaving the survivors stranded in Afghanistan.
Lawhon didn’t let any challenge stop her. She pooled donations and even some of her own money and gathered phone chargers and supplies for the survivors to help them obtain the correct documentation required to get back home.
During the whole ordeal, Lawhon barely slept as she juggled two jobs; the one she was sent to Afghanistan to do and that of aiding attack survivors.