I did not know Master Sergeant Evander “Andy” Andrews, but I remember learning about his death. It probably stuck with me because we had a few basic things in common.
We were both from Maine. That seems like a simple thing, but in a nation of over 300 million people you take note when you encounter someone from your little 1.3 million-person corner of it.
We were both non-commissioned officers in the Air Force. Again, that is a simple thing, but our shared rank and branch of service meant he was somehow less than a stranger.
MSgt Andrews was the first US military casualty in the response to 9/11. He didn’t die on the battlefield. He was killed in a horrible construction accident.
His squadron mates finished the job he started. A year after his accident I called “Camp Andy” home as we prepared for another war. There was a large stone in the social center of the camp with a plaque that reminded us all of his sacrifice. But the real monument to him was spread across 50 square miles of desert.
When MSgt Andrews and the other men and women of the 366th Civil Engineer Squadron arrived at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar there was not much to greet them. There was a nice runway, but nowhere to store bombs and fuel or places to house the mission planning and operations centers needed for an air campaign. There wasn’t even prepared ground to pitch a couple hundred tents.
Only 13 months later Al Udeid was prepared to accept over 100 aircraft of various types. It was their work that made possible the opening salvos of the infamous “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq.
I also remember MSgt Andrews for reasons I can’t quite fully explain. Two years after his death I joined the 366th Fighter Wing as a staff NCO. In that position I had access to a host of records, including a whole file discussing his death. It included a lot of photos.
I don’t know if his family ever knew it, but their Airman was much beloved by the men and women in his squadron. Some unknown photographer captured heart-wrenching scenes of genuine grief and sorrow that I would recognize years later in Afghanistan. In those pictures it was obvious that, to his fellow Airmen, he was family.
Above all, there was one picture that struck me the most. It was not of military men a women dealing with the loss of a comrade. It was a mother burying a son in Arlington.
When I wrote of Gold Star Mothers two weeks ago, this is the image that was on my mind. During my time at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, I had to give dozens of briefings about the unit’s response to 9/11. This was one of the photos in that briefing. I never made it past this slide with something getting in my eye.
So, this Memorial Day I will remember MSgt Andrews and his family. Like so many others, he was a casualty of doing a difficult and important task in an austere and inhospitable location. He didn’t die in battle, but that does not diminish the sacrifice he made for a nation still in shock that terrorists could reach us at home.
Thank you, sir. You are not forgotten.