New York Ex-Green Beret turned history teacher on bringing Afghan forces to safety

Onondaga County

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR) — As the Taliban grew more daring, an all-volunteer group of American Veterans of the Afghan War launched a secret mission dubbed the Pineapple Express, shepherding hundreds of Afghan elite forces and their families to safety.

Playing a key role was former U.S. Army Green Beret turned Syracuse Social Studies Teacher Zac Lois, the underground railroad’s key engineer. “Teaching about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad popped into my head and that’s what we went with,” said Lois. “And it worked.”

Lois said it’s gratifying to hear from the many who made it to safety. “That was probably the most amazing part of this. I have a whole file of downloaded messages, just from voicemails of people sending me messages of appreciation once they got onto the airplane.”

A dangerous, daring mission that came as no surprise to the students he taught. “When he sees there’s not a lot being done, he always takes a stand,” said student Margaret Gosar. “I really am happy that I had someone in my life to show me that.”

“No one is doing enough,” said Ala’a Laila. “He risks his life and some of his closest teammates to put others first.”

“It’s important for our students not just to see history in a book or on a screen, but to feel connected to it, and to the people around the world that are not really so different from them,” said teacher Rachel Weimer.

“It’s personally important to set the example for my students,” said Lois. “To be part of history—to be able to come back and talk about the experience—will be something I’ll enjoy.”

That chapter will have to wait. The social studies teacher isn’t done helping to write this part of history. He says the mission is far from finished. Since the operation isn’t done, in his words, they’re just on the yard line.

Lois is taking a leave of absence to continue the mission. He encourages anyone who wants to support the task force and with the relocation of Afghan families, donate to Operation Recovery.

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