During 1994, continuing dictatorships in Cuba and Haiti prompted thousands of refugees to set out in boats for freedom in the United States. Intercepted by U.S. Coast Guard and Navy vessels, the refugees were taken to Guantánamo Bay, a U.S. military base in Cuba, for shelter, food, and processing for possible immigration.
By August, refugee camps at Guantánamo were filled to capacity with Cuban and Haitian refugees. To make room for more refugees, the United States persuaded the Panamanian government to temporarily shelter up to 10,000 Cuban refugees at four camps set up by U.S. military forces in Panama.
Two AF Res units, the 908th Airlift Group from Maxwell AFB in Alabama and the 934th Airlift Group from Minneapolis-St. Paul, airlifted the first 100 Cuban refugees from Guantánamo to Howard AFB in Panama in early September, using a pair of C–130s. The first, flown by Capt. David Heinlen and a crew from the 908th Airlift Group, carried 53 refugees. Ships moved more refugees from Guantánamo to Panama.