STEWART AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, NEWBURGH, NEW YORK - Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. will recognize 17 New York Air National Guard Airmen on April 1 for their bravery and teamwork during the August 2021 evacuation of Americans and Afghans from Afghanistan.
The members of the 105th Airlift Wing distinguished themselves during missions flown into the Kabul International Airport to evacuate 2,524 Americans and Afghans who worked for the United States.
During Operation Allies Refuge, the 105th contributed three C-17s and their aircrews to the operation, which ran from July 14 to Aug. 30.
On their final mission, aircrew members of the 105th solemnly airlifted the remains of 13 fallen service members killed during the evacuation.
One aircrew will receive the Air Medal with the “C” device, which indicates achievement performed in combat, while another crew will receive the Air Medal.
Tech. Sgt. Byron A. Catu, flying crew chief of a C-17 designated by its call sign Reach 824, will receive the Air Medal with “V” device for valor. Recipients of the Air Medal with “V” device have demonstrated heroism above what is normally expected while engaged in direct combat.
Catu was recognized with a Meritorious Service Medal in 2022.
Brown will also take part in a ceremony in which one of the wing’s C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft will be named “The Spirit of Allies Refuge,” to commemorate the wing’s role in the missions.
“The men and women of the 105th Airlift Wing have, time and again, displayed their incredible selflessness through their whole dedication to the mission,” said Brig. Gen. Gary Charlton, the commander of the 105th Airlift Wing.
“Operation Allies Refuge provides the supreme example of what our Airmen are made of. Throughout this operation, these Citizen-Airmen put themselves directly in harm’s way for the sole purpose of saving the lives of others,” he said.
“While the recognition they are receiving from these Air Medals is a great honor, saving the lives of thousands of fellow human beings served as their motivation,” Charlton emphasized.
The mission aimed to airlift at-risk Afghan civilians, particularly interpreters, U.S. embassy employees, and other prospective Special Immigrant Visa applicants from Afghanistan as the Taliban took over the country.
Six crew members of C-17 Raven 824 were recognized for their actions during the mission in June 2022. That aircrew delivered an Army special operations helicopter and support crew to Kabul shortly after the Taliban occupied part of the airport.
Airmen receiving the Air Medal during the April 1 ceremony at Stewart Air National Guard Base are:
• Lt. Col. Dominic Conlan, aircraft commander, Air Medal with “C” Device (4th Award). Conlan and his crew flew into Kabul four times, once to retrieve a repaired C-17 and then evacuate 462 people. Eventually, he led the rescue of 1,476 Afghans, 72 Americans and an MH-47 special operations helicopter.
• Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sweeney, C-17 instructor pilot, Air Medal with “C” Device (4th Award). Sweeney was part of Conlan’s crew and played a key role in four missions. He piloted a repaired C-17 the crew evacuated from Kabul with 462 evacuees despite the loss of one generator and an overheated engine.
• Maj. Lindsay Jacobson, C-17 pilot, Air Medal with “C” Device (4th Award). She was part of Conlan’s crew and completed an external airworthiness inspection despite reports of snipers and suicide bombers in the area. She also provided first aid to a toddler suffering from extreme heat.
• Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Britt, instructor loadmaster, Air Medal with “C” Device (4th Award). He was part of Conlan’s crew and oversaw the loading of an MH-47 helicopter in 50 minutes instead of the normal 4 hours. He played a key role in calming refugees waiting to deplane in Kuwait.
• Senior Airman Todd Bednarek, loadmaster, Air Medal with “C” Device. He was part of Conlan’s crew and played a key role in loading an MH-47 in only 50 minutes instead of four hours on the crew’s final mission. He also oversaw boarding procedures that allowed the evacuation of over 2,000 people.
• Tech. Sgt. Craig A. Hernandez, crew chief, Air Medal with “C” Device. He was a part of Lt. Col. Conlan’s crew and oversaw the repair of a failed generator in austere conditions, which allowed the plane to take off. He also played a key role in seeing to the health and safety of the evacuees.
• Staff Sgt. Benjamin M. Hinderman, Security Forces Airman, Air Medal with “C” Device. Staff Sgt. Hinderman conducted security patrols of C-17s on the ground in Kabul in a threat environment and helped see to the health and safety of evacuees.
• Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Kuritzky, Security Forces Airman, Air Medal with “C” Device. Staff Sgt. Kuritzky led the security team, which secured C-17s on the ground in Kabul. Twice, he oversaw the loading of hundreds of refugees without incident.
• Staff Sgt. Anthony Waldropt Jr., Security Forces Airman, Air Medal with “C” Device. Staff Sgt. Waldrop secured C-17s on the ground in Kabul. Twice, he oversaw the loading of hundreds of refugees without incident.
• Capt. Robert Dana, aircraft commander, Air Medal (2nd Award). Despite maintenance issues with their C-17, he launched and flew to Kabul, dealt with active radio jamming, landed amid firefights on the ground, and evacuated 424 to Tbilisi, Georgia, even though the aircraft was low on fuel.
• Maj. Patrick O’Neil, C-17 instructor pilot, Air Medal (2nd Award). As a key member of Dana’s crew, O’Neil aided the pilot in flying and navigating into the airport at Kabul and then calculated the flight requirements to get 424 evacuees to Tbilisi.
• Maj. John Chybowski, C-17 pilot, Air Medal (3rd Award). As a member of Dana’s crew, Chybowski provided advice and situational awareness to pilots. He was the primary crewmember scanning for threats and identifying battles on the ground to the pilots.
• Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Schofield, instructor loadmaster, Air Medal (10th Award). As a member of Dana’s Crew, Schofield coordinated with the security forces Airmen to swiftly load 424 evacuees and defuse any hostile situations on board.
• Tech. Sgt. Scott Alden, loadmaster, Air Medal (2nd Award). As a member of Dana’s crew, Tech Sgt. Alden helped board 424 evacuees. He diagnosed a maintenance issue, which meant the pilots were not getting proper weight and aircraft balance information, so they could make the right calculations.
• Staff Sgt. Dennis Bhola, loadmaster, Air Medal. As a member of Dana’s crew, Bhola assisted in boarding 424 evacuees. He provided security at the rear of the cargo bay and intervened to prevent fights among passengers.
• Master Sgt. Michael S. Roe, crew chief, Air Medal. As a member of Dana’s crew, Roe provided medical assistance to Afghan evacuees. He also provided medical help to Afghan evacuees in Kuwait.
• Tech. Sgt. Byron A. Catu, crew chief, Air Medal with “V” Device. As a crew chief, Catu played a key role during three missions to Kabul, one of which required delivering an Army MH-47 special operations helicopter and crew to the airport. When the impact of a bullet in the wing of the C-17 resulted in a fuel spill, Catu dealt with the situation, allowing the flight to proceed. He was originally awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 2022.