The loadmasters affectionately referred to Senior Airman Justin Woods as “Junior” because the 20-year-old was the youngest member of the squadron.
Junior joined the 71st Rescue Squadron on January 5, 1995. He was the first active-duty loadmaster to go from civilian to fully qualified loadmaster, a job normally reserved for experienced personnel. He was on his second deployment to Saudi Arabia and two weeks shy of his 21st birthday. He packed a lot in his 21 years, flying 34 combat missions, and his actions contributed to the squadron being credited with saving 10 lives.
Squadron members say Woods is the guy who kept everyone laughing with his Jim Carrey “Ace Ventura” impressions.
“He was always on,” according to Master Sgt. Julien Johnson. “He was just like a puppy. The energy he gave off to the rest of the squadron was uplifting,” said Johnson, a fellow loadmaster. “There wasn’t a down side to Justin. He was full of energy. He could put a smile on anyone’s face.”
“That’s the hard part for his buddies in Dormitory 506,” said Senior Airman Robert Carden, who was Woods fellow loadmaster and dorm neighbor.
“We are like a family. He was always making everyone laugh. He was the happiest person I knew,” said Carcieri.
“You couldn’t walk by him without cracking a smile,” said Johnson. “The only time I ever saw him down was when he fell in love with Pocahontas at Disney World.”
“But that was Junior being Junior,” Johnson said. “He was always moving, doing something. Once, we were in Las Vegas, and he won $90 at a nickel slot machine. When they (casino officials) found out he wasn’t 21, he was asked to leave the premises and not come back.”
That was cool with Junior. He took the money, bought inline skates, and spent the rest of the time skating there.
“That just the way he was,” said Johnson. “He was an entertainer. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”