A portrait in readiness

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Dalton Williams, 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Office

Nearly the entire world watched Air Mobility Command Airmen evacuate more than one hundred thousand evacuees from Afghanistan, all while combating active attacks in Kabul. Nearly the whole world was glued to their screens watching this operation unfold, experiencing feelings mirroring a rollercoaster. 

Unlike the millions of TV viewers,  Airman 1st Class Keith Lautez wouldn’t experience these emotions while watching a screen, but would instead witness firsthand the power AMC brings to the world, as he provided security aboard these very flights. 
Lautez was about to return home after his deployment when he was suddenly called on to stay longer and eventually lead a team of Airmen who helped evacuate hundreds of civilians aboard a C-17. The airlift operation would ultimately transport 124,000 civilians from Kabul with aircraft departing every 34 minutes, and in a single day evacuated more than 19,000 people. 

At first he said they were disappointed to not be going home, but then “we changed our mindset. That’s an important part of combat readiness.”

Because he displayed a readiness mindset during this crisis response, he was tasked to lead a mission.  “I just kind of took a brief moment and said ‘let's do this.”

The Makiki, Hawaii, native, credits the hours spent training as a Phoenix Raven member at Scott AFB with the ability to step up and lead during this time.

“You have a lot of responsibility, not just for your team members, but the rest of the aircrew. Their life is basically in your hands. Having that responsibility takes a toll mentally because anything can happen.”

Senior Airman Joshua Pineda, 375th SFS patrolman and fellow Raven deployed with Lautez, said, “He will do anything that he needs to do in regards to getting the mission done. As a team lead, he was extremely proficient in his job and no one can say anything different from that. I always knew that he was there protecting me and had my back 100 percent.”

Lauetz gets his “grit” from growing up in a state that frequently tops the list with the highest costs of living, which can act as a meat grinder, chewing and spitting out families living paycheck to paycheck. Growing up in a family of seven, sometimes there wasn’t enough. Sometimes, sacrifices needed to be made. 

“I didn’t grow up with a lot, but we chose to keep going rather than mope about it. The struggles are what drove me. My parents mean everything to me, and who I am as a person is because of them. They put in the work and effort regardless of the situation. That’s the best thing I could ever ask for as a son. I didn’t want to leave [home], but I knew that I had to help my family financially as well as build a foundation for myself.” To this day he calls home frequently and checks in with his family.  

After returning from deployment, Lauetz had the opportunity to brief the AMC commander, Gen. Mike Minihan, and other senior leaders on how he used his combat readiness during Operation Allies Refuge. He also shared his story among 400 Airmen during a 375th Air Mobility Wing commander’s call.

Lautez and Pineda are working with eight Airmen from the squadron on their days off to prepare them for Phoenix Raven training.

Senior Airman Chase Taylor, 375th SFS patrolman, said, “He’s really been helping us out. He’s also very smart when it comes to the career field and day-to-day things.”

Lautez leads by example, taking care of not just his wingmen, but his siblings too.

“I have a little brother, and I’m trying to set that example for him not just by being in the military, but in life as well. I’m just trying to be the best that I can be.”