In September of 2022, Senior Airman Austin Andrews, 4th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, received the Staff Sgt. Henry E. “Red” Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member of the Year award.
This award is given to one flight engineer, loadmaster, air surveillance operator or other related career field each year for outstanding leadership and sustained self-improvements in support of enlisted aircrew operations.
“My leadership didn’t tell me they put me up for the award, so I was very surprised when I got the call to come in on my day off and was presented the award,” said Andrews. “It was nice to see hard work being recognized.”
Andrews received this award following a busy 2021 as a loadmaster.
“I returned from a deployment and the day my rest and recuperation leave was up, I got back out [to Afghanistan],” said Andrews. “We were the last jet on the ramp to leave from McChord and it was a ghost town on the flightline. Everyone had assembled and left to help during Operation Allies Refuge.”
Operation Allies Refuge was a military operation to airlift certain at-risk Afghan civilians, particularly interpreters, U.S. embassy employees, and other prospective Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants from Afghanistan during the final days of the 2001-2021 War in Afghanistan.
Andrews and his crew first flew to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and stayed overnight to prepare for their long flight ahead. The next morning as the crew was enroute to the jet, they saw on the news that the flightline at Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan, was being overrun by Afghan citizens attempting to flee the country.
“I called my mom and let her know that I was headed over there but she already had an idea,” said Andrews. “We were headed over there to get the job done; this is what we train for.”
During his first flight of OAR, Andrews and his crew responsible for transporting the 82nd Airborne Division commander to Kabul. The 82nd were in the beginning stages of their deployment to the Middle East in response to the Immediate Response Force activation by the Pentagon in order to help evacuate U.S. Embassy personnel in Kabul. After this initial flight, Andrews and his crew spent several dozens more flying hours transporting U.S. Soldiers back and forth from Afghanistan.
“It was hard seeing how many people were at each base,” said Andrews. “It was hard to see families and kids sleeping on the concrete with no blanket or anything. It was not easy doing what we did, but it was what we trained to do. It was the best and worst experience of my life.”
Andrews explains that the training he received in his unit was pivotal carrying out his duties successfully during OAR.
“You either know it or you don’t and when you’re out there you don’t have time to be reading the regulations,” said Andrews. “You have to act, and that operation is exactly what we train our people for.”
Andrews, now a development flight instructor loadmaster, has a direct hand in training Airmen straight out of technical training on how to be a loadmaster in the operational Air Force. He is responsible for getting them ready for their first “check ride”, which is their annual check to make sure they are up to the standard that their regulation, and the mission, holds them to.
“I love loading the plane, problem solving, and I love guiding others in their problem solving,” Andrews said. “I train these loadmasters because I love it.”
Andrews has over 46 training hours readying future loadmasters for the flight, and fight, ahead.
“I got my instructor certification about a year ago and it has been very rewarding, teaching people how to do the job,” said Andrews. “I love what we do out there – logistics wins wars.”
To Andrews, seeing the lightbulb go off when the Airmen start to understand what they’re being taught is one of the most rewarding things. His dedication to training the future of the force and carrying out the mission put him in a position to be awarded the “Red” Erwin award; an award that Andrews said belongs to everyone who has helped him along the way and not only himself.
“If a mentor doesn’t come to you, find yourself one,” said Andrews. “Someone who can teach you and that you can really lean on because when you’ve found a good mentor, they can take you very far.”
Although his mentors and leadership are what helped him along the path of receiving the award, he accredits his overall career to his older brother.
Andrews is the youngest of six from a small town in Michigan, but he is not the first person in his family to take on the title of loadmaster. A little over three years ago he decided to follow in his older brother’s footsteps, who had joined more than a year prior to him and was also a 62d Airlift Wing loadmaster.
“All of this wouldn’t have been possible without him, and he was my biggest inspiration.”
From dozens of training hours to thousands of flying hours, and everything in between; Andrews has left his mark as a Mobility Warfighter on not only the 4th AS or the 62d Airlift Wing, but the Air Force as a whole.