PEORIA, Ill. - A C-130 Hercules aircraft loadmaster with the 169th Airlift Squadron was awarded the Staff Sgt. Henry E. "Red" Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member Airman of the Year Award today.
"It's pretty much a major surprise. I didn't believe it," said Air Force Senior Airman Ryan J. Lane on receiving the honor.
Lane was presented the award by the National Guard Bureau career enlisted aviator career field manager, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Steven J. Pyszka.
"For us, it is the most prestigious award that we can give out," said Pyszka. "And for Airman Lane who is going to win that today, he had to compete against 3,000 other career enlisted aviators in the Air National Guard."
The award nominees were evaluated by their outstanding accomplishments, leadership traits that impacted the mission, and self-improvement in areas such as education and training.
Lane was selected in part for his role in successfully completing 97 combat sorties that airdropped 48,384 pounds of supplies, delivered 153 tons of cargo and transported 1,690 passengers in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was also recognized as an airman who is a team player and a self-motivated, detail-oriented learner capable of handling mission-vital tasks.
Pyszka said that accomplishment of the nominees' missions relates to adhering to the Air Force core values.
"You have to have that integrity because five other crewmembers on that airplane are counting on that person to do their job," he said. "If you're not performing your job at an excellent level, every time you go out there you're putting five other people in danger, and if you're carrying passengers you're putting that whole entire aircraft in danger, too."
Protecting lives is what inspired the creation of Army Air Corps Staff Sgt. Henry E. Erwin's namesake award. Erwin was a B-29 Superfortress radio operator during World War II whose heroism saved his aircraft and fellow crewmembers April 12, 1945.
A smoke bomb prematurely ignited inside the aircraft during an attack on a Japanese chemical plant, filling the aircraft with smoke and burning phosphorous. Erwin, although blinded by the phosphorous, picked up the burning ordnance and threw it off the plane. Doing so allowed the pilot to pull the aircraft up from a dive merely 300 feet before crashing.
Erwin suffered burns to his face and body so severe that he wasn't expected to live. However, he did survive and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
"What that exemplifies - for what he did to actually get that award started - to pass that on to our other enlisted aviators is a really huge benefit," said Pyszka. "It's something that we shouldn't take lightly, and nobody does."