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.”