Airlifter of the Week: Helping COVID-19 patients fly

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Much like Airmen, aircraft need support. One kind of support comes in the form of fuel.

Aircraft readiness becomes an increasingly important need during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, as many countries rely on aid to help prevent the spread of disease.

Senior Airman Juan Castro, 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels distribution operator, understands the importance of his job at the end of every shift.

”We have a saying: ‘Without fuel, a pilot is a pedestrian,’” Castro said.

Brig. Gen. Mark R. August, 86th Airlift Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Ernesto Rendon, 86th AW command chief, recognized Castro as Airlifter of the Week for outstanding performance. Due to COVID-19, Chief Master Sgt Erik Bensen, 86th LRS fuels manager, presented the coin to Castro in their place while wing leadership shared some words through virtual means.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to support a mission that’s getting these people wherever they need to get treated,” Castro said. “It’s cool to be a part of that.”

Castro thanks his flight and leadership for their support and in getting him to the title of Airlifter of the Week.

“They are always there in case I need anything,” Castro said. “Whenever I have personal stuff going on, they’re always there to support me.”

Another pillar of support in Castro’s life has been his family. Spending more time with his family has been one of the positives of the outbreak.

Castro lives with his expecting wife and two young children. Before COVID-19, he spent nearly three years hiking and traveling throughout Europe with his family to places such as Munich, Bavaria, Disneyland Paris, France and Luxembourg.

“Before I married my wife, I told her I was thinking about joining the Air Force and that I’d take her to Switzerland,” Castro said. “Next thing we knew, I got orders to Ramstein and a dream became a reality.”

That was until the pandemic happened. Although Castro’s dreams of Switzerland came to a halt, he said he is still thankful for the extra time with his family. He teaches his children to play games, helps his wife with housework and goes out with them on walks.

“Hopefully, we can get through this and later I can tell my kids, ‘Hey, you know I helped support some of these missions to help people get treated,’” Castro said.

As one of two personnel on shift, qualified to issue fuel to aircraft carrying COVID-19 patients, Castro has been an indispensable help for aircraft in COVID-19 operations. He issued more than 100,000 gallons of fuel during the pandemic. He was the only Airman available to support a no-notice Department of State aircraft hosting a COVID-19 patient and their family members from Afghanistan. Thanks to his support, hundreds of testing swabs and COVID-19 tests arrived safely to countries in need of assistance.

COVID-19 operations continue, and while Castro’s job has been affected, it has not stopped.

“It’s definitely good to know (people) notice my hard work and appreciate that,” Castro said.