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Loadmaster Makes History at 106th Rescue Wing

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  • 106th Rescue Wing

For the first time at the 106th Rescue Wing, a loadmaster was presented the prestigious Air National Guard 2022 Henry "Red" Erwin Outstanding NCO Aircrew Member of the Year Award in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., May 6, 2023.

Tech Sgt. Ryan Rutz, an aircraft loadmaster assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing, received the award for outstanding performance in the Career Enlisted Aviator field as a non-commissioned officer (NCO), competing against all Career Enlisted Aviator submissions within the Air National Guard and will now compete at the Headquarters Air Force level, against the entire active duty Career Enlisted Aviator community.

“This award is important because of who it’s named after, an Air Force legend and it signifies the top Career Enlisted Aviator,” said Chief Master Sgt. Craig Connor, the senior enlisted leader of the 102nd Rescue Squadron. “The 102nd Rescue Squadron has never had a Red Erwin Award winner ‘til now.”

According to the Congressional Medal of Order Society, Henry Eugene "Red" Erwin was the radio operator of a B-29 Superfortress bomber leading a formation to attack Koriyama, Japan, April 12, 1945. Erwin saved his aircraft and crew by disposing of an incendiary device that malfunctioned, ignited and made its way into aircraft cabin, severely injuring Erwin in the process. Smoke filled the cabin, obscuring the pilot’s view and the phosphorus device, burning at over 1,000 degrees, threatened to burn through the floor into the bomb bay where it could detonate the explosive payload. Erwin engulfed in flames, blinded and permanently disfigured, carried the burning device to the flight deck and hurled it out the co-pilot’s window. For his heroism and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, Erwin was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Air Force created the Henry E. Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member of the Year Award in 1997. The award is presented annually to an Airman, NCO and senior NCO in the active-duty or reserve forces. Members of the flight engineering, loadmaster, air surveillance and related career fields are eligible for the award.

As a teenager Rutz had an idea of what he wanted to do and the path leading him to his success was set when he enlisted in 2006, at the age of 19.

“I got my pilot’s license in high school and always carried this drive to wear the uniform and serve, especially after 9/11,” Rutz explained. “Being able to combine two of my passions and earn a living doing them is a dream come true. It doesn’t even feel like a job.”

A job it is though, and the list of accomplishments earning him such high recognition is a point of pride for his leadership.

“As an instructor Rutz has gone above and beyond to contribute to the combat readiness of the squadron,” said Connor. “He has completed a significant amount of training across all crew positions and administered half of all our loadmaster evaluations.”

A sense of stewardship of the force led Rutz to volunteer to support the training unit for the HC-130J Combat King II aircraft, where he also received an additional instructor rating for MC-130J Commando II aircraft and produced over 20 qualified loadmasters.

“Who we’re shaping and who we’re teaching are the future instructors and I want to move on knowing we’re leaving a capable force behind us to fill our shoes,” Rutz said.
As the lead planner for several joint service exercises involving multiple Special Operations units, Rutz increased the tactical capability and interoperability of his squadron, providing tactical instruction to international partners.

During a preflight inspection, Rutz discovered an armed pyrotechnic device loaded onboard an aircraft, dangerously close to nearly 70 pounds of explosive material. With some parallel to Erwin’s experience, Rutz’s actions upon discovering the issue safeguarded a $66 million aircraft and more importantly, the lives of five other crew members.

“I'm just proud to have him in the 102nd Squadron and will be even more proud to see him grow as a future leader of the 106th Rescue Wing,” Connor added.

Even with all the personal accomplishments leading to Rutz receiving the awarded, he feels it’s a shared honor.

“Because of the unit I was able to do those things and those things earned me the award,” Rutz emphasized. “It’s the unit around me that really won the award, I’m the face of it.”

The 106th Rescue Wing, based at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, operates and maintains the HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft, and the HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter. The 106th RQW is home to a special warfare squadron with pararescuemen and combat rescue officers, specializing in rescue and recovery, and deploys for domestic and overseas operations.