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Aiming high in the US Air Force

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Submitted Photo Tech. Sgt. Rachel Andrew

Tech. Sgt. Rachel Andrew is experiencing an extraordinary life serving in the United States Air Force. However, the Air Force was not her original goal.

Upon graduating from New Mexico State University with a degree in theater arts, Rachel said, “I discovered a few years later that being a starving artist was not as glamorous as I had thought. I went looking for a career path but couldn’t find anything that suited me. So, I thought about my family.”

Speaking of her family tree, peppered with those who served, Rachel mentions her three younger brothers who joined the Marines right out of high school. “I watched them transform from children into strong, courageous men,” Rachel said. “They are my heroes. They recommended I talk to an Air Force recruiter. It wasn’t the career path I had ever envisioned, but my dad always taught me to find the good in every situation, so that’s what I did.”

She not only found those good things, but the flames were fanned until Rachel, a Roswell High School graduate, wasn’t only committed to the Air Force, but excited.

“I didn’t remember that my grandfather (Harold Huebner) was a B-52 mechanic stationed at Walker Air Force base,” she said. “My dad recently gave me Grandpa’s Air Force ring, and it constantly reminds me of the proud tradition I am honored to continue.”

When asked to share some of her experiences over the past decade, the list was long and distinguished.

“I’ve done everything from operations in the Middle East to presidential travel missions,” Rachel said. “I spent a year working protocol at Dover AFB, where our primary mission was the Dignified Transfer ceremony of returning fallen heroes to the United States. That was painful at times, but rewarding, and reminded me of the sacrifice we’re willing to make when we join.

“On a more fun note,” she continued, “I’ve been to all seven continents. The coolest was Antarctica. I was fortunate to participate in Operation Deep Freeze. Stationed out of Christchurch, New Zealand (probably my favorite place on Earth), we took National Science Foundation scientists and equipment in and out of Phoenix Airfield at McMurdo Station. I also got to conduct a simulated airdrop over the South Pole.

“The first time we tried to land,” she laughs, “there was a seal on the runway. We circled until they could persuade him to leave.”

Her career has led her to become a loadmaster on the C-17 military aircraft. “When I was enlisting, air traffic controller was actually at the top of my list,” she said. “I added loadmaster because my recruiter said, ‘If you like math and travel, this is a good choice.’”

When a spot opened, Rachel began the training and immediately knew she’d made the right choice. Her responsibilities include on-loading and off-loading cargo, calculating the proper amount of restraint, securing pallets and vehicles, and ensuring the safety of any passengers.

“Loadmaster is vital to scanning for threats and alerting the pilots of potential emergencies,” Rachel further explains. “We also do aeromedical evacuation missions where we transport ambulatory and critical care patients out of the battlefield. I am also qualified as an airdrop loadmaster, which is one of the best parts of the job. We drop CDS (Container Delivery System) bundles, heavy equipment platforms and personnel.”

Recently, Rachel also became the first enlisted female to go through the grueling four-month course to teach on the enlisted side at the 57th Weapons Squadron. Designed to test technical and cognitive abilities, as well as mental fortitude, the course is made up of three phases: Maneuver Theory, Defensive Tactics, and the Composite Mission Application.

“We dive deep into the capabilities of the aircraft, and perform extensive analysis of different threat environments,” Rachel said. “This culminates in the CMA phase where we’re given a complex scenario: mission plan 12 sorties, fly 10, and be graded on how well we accomplish each of the Desired Learning Objectives (DLOs). It was some of the most intense flying I have ever done.”

There are also academic classes, formal and informal briefing presentations and more.

Before graduation, a special ceremony is held where graduates officially receive their new call sign and instructor patch.

“Each call sign has a deeper meaning,” Rachel said. “You wear the instructor patch with pride. It’s an emotional night, as we’re charged with upholding the values established by previous generations.”

Soon, Tech. Sgt. Andrew — call sign “VOX” — will teach the next class of loadmasters.

“This is an opportunity to give back to the community,” she said. “It’s all about challenging loadmasters and pilots to think critically and find innovative solutions to complex problems.”

When asked what advice she would give to those thinking about enlisting, Rachel wants everyone to know: “This is the world’s greatest Air Force, and if you join, you’ll be expected to live up to those standards.” To females wishing to follow her path, she adds, “I absolutely recommend the armed forces to women. I tell everyone to go out there and be the best airman, marine, soldier or sailor they’ve ever seen. Hold your head high, have confidence and treat everyone you encounter with respect.”

Rachel focuses her respect on many. “Dad has always been my rock and mentor who taught me the values of hard work and positive thinking,” she said. “Mom always taught me to pursue my dreams and has supported me in everything.

“My husband, Tech. Sgt. Eian Andrew, is an inspiration. I have never met a man with more drive and dedication. And throughout my Air Force career, I’ve encountered many role models; specifically, Senior Master Sgt. Lori Tascione and Senior Master Sgt. Lindy Mehaffy, who encouraged and pushed me to be the successful airman I am. …”

The end goal for Rachel is chief master sergeant, the highest rank an enlisted member can achieve.

“Being a chief puts me in a position where I can affect change for the betterment of the enlisted force. … My time in the United States Air Force will eventually come to an end, and I want to leave it better than I found it. I want to build the next generation of airmen to be better than I ever was, and I want to thank and repay the United States Air Force for all it has given to me.”