Legendary Servicemembers: U.S. Air Force Crew Chief Ethan Schaffner – Got the job Done During the Kabul Evacuation

Kabul Falls

On Nov. 21, 2022, 51 airmen were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their actions during Operation Allies Refuge, where coalition forces and civilian partners evacuated civilians and military personnel before the U.S. fully withdrew from the country on Aug. 30, 2021.

These airmen rose to the occasion and executed the operation flawlessly. Thanks to their quick thinking and skillful flying, more than 124,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan.

Their actions are a testament to their bravery and commitment to their fellow citizens.

Operation Allies Refuge

The Afghanistan War is one of the longest-running conflicts in history. The Operation Allies Refuge Kabul Withdrawal marked a major milestone as it marked a full withdrawal of allied forces from Kabul, Afghanistan.

This was an incredibly complicated mission that required split-second decision making and nerves of steel. Unfortunately, the Biden administrations handling of the withdrawal made the operation a dangerous one and resulted in the deaths of American servicemembers, Afghanistan civilians, and coalition troops.

The mission, which lasted nearly two weeks, was a massive undertaking that required the coordination of multiple militaries and civilian organizations.

Although this withdrawal brings an end to America’s direct involvement in Afghanistan, it does not signify an end to Afghanistan’s troubles. In fact, after the withdrawal, the situation deteriorated rapidly as the Taliban took power and formed a brutal, tyrannical form of government.

U.S. Air Force Flying Crew Chief Ethan Schaffner

Being a flying crew chief is a demanding job. You have to be able to think on your feet and solve problems quickly.

Air Force Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Ethan Schaffner’s job is to ride on a C-17 transport jet and address any mechanical problems that come up mid-flight or while the plane is on the ground. This is a vital role, and like all flying crew chiefs, Schaffner takes great pride in keeping his aircraft safe.

Most of those aircraft participating in Operation Allies Refuge had flying crew chiefs aboard, and Schaffner himself was part of a group of six airmen split into teams of two, with each team accompanying a jet back and forth out to the taxiway.

It was his job to help guide the pilot, using hand signals, as the jet taxied out. Then he would stand by and watch as the plane took off. The next time he saw it, it would be coming in for a landing, and his job would be to help guide it back to the taxiway.

In between takeoffs and landings, he and the other crew chiefs would inspect the jets, making sure that they were in good working order. It was a demanding job, but Schaffner loved every minute of it. He loved being around aircraft and he loved the excitement of taking off and landing, especially in a contested environment.

Schaffner said that as soon as the jet landed at Al Udeid, he and his team would go around their aircraft “with a fine tooth comb.” That involved checking the tires, making sure none of the brakes were worn out and that there were no hydraulic leaks, oil leaks or fuel leaks. Then they would make sure all of the electrical components on the flight deck were in good order, which took a few hours all on its own.

Task & Purpose

Despite the heat, exhaustion, and dangerous conditions, TSgt Schaffner and all the other maintenance personnel got the job done.

Distinguished Flying Cross

The Distinguished Flying Cross is one of the military’s highest honors and recognizes “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight,”. This prestigious award is typically reserved for pilots and crew members who have distinguished themselves in combat.

On Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, TSgt Ethan Schaffner and 50 other airmen at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina were presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross for their role in Operation Allies Refuge.

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