Monday, May 19, 2008

TOP STORY >> Chief earns Guard’s ‘Red’ Erwin award

By Master Sgt. Bob Oldham
189th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

An Arkansas Air National Guard loadmaster was named the Air National Guard’s Henry E. “Red” Erwin Outstanding Career Aviator of the Year award, Senior NCO category, for calendar year 2007.

Chief Master Sgt. Richard W. Merriman, formerly with the 154th Training Squadron and now assigned to the 189th Operations Group, received the award based on his accomplishments, leadership and self improvement.

During 2007, the chief voluntarily deployed with the 39th Airlift Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, to support flying operations in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom as well as operations in the Horn of Africa, flying 80 combat sorties and 23 combat support sorties, according to his nomination package.

He also flew 180 missions in support of Air Force and Air National Guard missions, Lt. Col. Greg Myers, 154th Training Squadron commander, wrote in the nomination package.

The chief also provided formal instructor training to newly assigned squadron instructors, ensuring new loadmasters understood the training syllabi and unit operating procedures.

Due to his leadership and expertise, he was hand picked to fill the vacant operations group standardization and evaluation loadmaster position.

On April 12, 1945, Erwin, an Air Force staff sergeant at the time and radio operator, was dropping phosphorus smoke bombs through a chute in the B-29’s floor on a raid of a chemical plant north of Tokyo, according to an Air Force fact sheet. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for aircrew members to have several additional jobs in flight.

The fuse of a smoke bomb malfunctioned, “igniting the phosphorus, burning at 1,100 degrees.”

The canister “flew back up the chute and into Sergeant Erwin’s face, blinding him, searing off one ear and obliterating his nose. Smoke immediately filled the aircraft, making it impossible for the pilot to see the instrument panel,” according to the fact sheet.

Sergeant Erwin managed to carry the bomb to the cockpit and threw it out a window. The pilot was able to pull the aircraft out of a dive at about 300 feet above the water.

For his efforts that day, he received the Medal of Honor.

In 1997, the Air Force created the Henry E. Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member of the Year Award. It’s presented annually to an Airman, NCO and senior NCO in the active-duty or reserve forces. It goes to members of the flight engineering, loadmaster, air surveillance and related career fields.

It is only the second Air Force award named for an enlisted person.


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