NY Airman Recognized as Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member Published July 5, 2023 By Staff Sgt. Sean Madden, New York National Guard F.S. GABRESKI AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. - Tech. Sgt. Ryan Rutz, with the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach, has been named the top career enlisted aircrew member in the 100,000-member Air National Guard. Rutz serves as the loadmaster for an HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft flown by the 106th Rescue Wing’s 102nd Rescue Squadron. Based at Gabreski Air National Guard Base on the eastern tip of Long Island, the 106th Rescue Wing is trained to rescue personnel behind enemy lines and conduct search and rescue operations anywhere in the world. Rutz, who lives in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, was presented with the Staff Sgt. Henry E. “Red” Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member Airman of the Year Award by Col. Shawn Fitzgerald, the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, during a ceremony at the base. Rutz will now compete against other Airmen from the active Air Force and Air Force Reserve for the overall service award. The award, created in 1997, takes its name from a World War II Airman who risked his life to save the crew of his B-29 bomber. Erwin was awarded the Medal of Honor. Erwin was in the lead bomber on a raid over Japan, and he was supposed to drop a white phosphorus bomb down a chute and out of the plane to mark an assembly area for other aircraft. The device malfunctioned and flamed up, blinding and burning Erwin. He picked up the burning bomb, carried it to a window in the cockpit and threw it out, saving the plane. Erwin recovered his sight and lived until 2002. The Erwin award recognizes outstanding leadership and sustained self-improvement supporting enlisted aircrew operations. Rutz was picked for the award because he is an outstanding loadmaster instructor, according to Chief Master Sgt. Craig Conner, the senior enlisted leader of the 102nd Rescue Squadron, which flies the HC-130J. A loadmaster is responsible for what happens in the back of an Air Force cargo plane like the C-130. “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.” He also supports the unit responsible for training HC-130J aircrews. As a lead planner for several joint service exercises involving multiple special operations units, Rutz increased his squadron’s tactical capability and interoperability, providing tactical instruction to international partners, according to his citation. In one instance, Rutz was conducting a preflight inspection when he discovered an armed pyrotechnic device onboard an aircraft, dangerously close to nearly 70 pounds of explosive material. He took immediate action to safeguard the $66 million aircraft and the lives of five other crew members, the citation says. Rutz said he wanted to be in the Air Force as a teenager. “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 said. “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.” As an instructor, Rutz has helped train 20 other loadmasters. His military awards include the Air Medal, the Air and Space Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Unit Award, the Combat Readiness Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Air and Space Expeditionary Service Ribbon. “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.