By Maria Brewer
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State has been coordinating the repatriation of American citizens around the world. Embassy Freetown successfully repatriated 140 American citizens via a charter flight, March 30. Supporting this flight required all mission elements to work together, underscoring the importance of Embassy Freetown’s established “One Team, One Mission” approach. Drawing upon previous experience and best practices, Mission Sierra Leone responded to the challenge and opportunity by organizing this repatriation flight on short notice.
“During a time of crisis, all members of the embassy become de facto American Citizen Services staff,” said Consular Chief Lynn Vacca during a country team meeting discussing the coordination of this endeavor.
Freetown’s sole international flight hub, Lungi International Airport, is located across an estuary, requiring a 30- to 40-minute boat ride. Embassy staff were stationed at the water taxi terminal. They waited to receive American citizens, who disembarked from the boats to access the terminals. The staff reviewed the American citizens’ documents, collected signatures on necessary forms, and answered last-minute questions. On the airport side, embassy security staff were on hand to ensure that only manifested passengers were able to board the flight. Embassy airport expediters and U.S. Department of Defense staff interfaced with airport authorities to ensure the smooth arrival and departure of the flight itself.
Despite the multiple challenges involved in carrying out this special flight, Embassy Freetown staff demonstrated that teamwork and perseverance lead to success, especially when responding to a crisis.
Maria Brewer is the U.S. ambassador to Freetown, Sierra Leone.