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New York Airmen Awarded Medals for Afghanistan Evacuation

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rebekah Wilson,
  • 105th Airlift Wing

NEWBURGH, N.Y. – U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. recognized 17 Airmen from the 105th Airlift Wing April 1 for their bravery during the August 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Master Sgt. Byron Catu, a crew chief at the 105th, was awarded the Air Medal with Valor, a previously unattainable award for non-flight crew members. Catu received the award for his actions during Operation Allies Refuge.

“Flying crew chiefs were explicitly restricted from receiving flying awards,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, director of the Air National Guard and keynote speaker during the award ceremony at Stewart Air National Guard Base. “Today, we are gathered here because of those crew members and because of their leadership to right that wrong.”

Two aircrews led by Capt. Robert Dana and Lt. Col. Dominic Conlan, the aircraft commanders during the mission, were awarded Air Medals. The crews receiving the award also included Staff Sgts. Benjamin M. Hinderman, Joshua A. Kuritzky and Anthony Waldropt Jr. — security forces Airmen who defend aircraft in high-threat areas and who were previously ineligible for this award.

During the ceremony, a C-17 Globemaster III was named “The Spirit of Allies Refuge” in honor of the 105th Airlift Wing’s heroic actions during Operation Allies Refuge. Brown unveiled the artwork on the newly dedicated aircraft, commemorating the 105th for its part in the 2021 Kabul evacuation.

The design consists of a Boeing CH-47 Chinook, which is the helicopter that enabled evacuations, the Hindu Kush Mountains and a woman leading a procession of refugees. The 105th was recognized for its vital role in the largest civilian airlift in history by transporting 2,524 U.S. and Afghan citizens to safety.

Brown held an all-call with Airmen following the ceremony. He praised the aircrews for their heroism and for embodying the concept of accelerating change across the Air Force.

“We are the most respected Air Force in the world,” Brown said. “We, as an Air Force, have got to continue to drive ourselves to change. Those Air Medals we presented today are just an example of what we can do when our nation calls. This [aircraft] is a static display without our Airmen. You are the most important thing we have.”