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Weapons load Airmen help win the fight

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Weapons load crew Airmen assigned to the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron enable the base's B-1 fleet to provide critical air presence, precision strike and reconnaissance capability worldwide.
 
While this may sound general to some, those who understand the crucial role played by these Airmen know full well how important they are to the base accomplishing its mission.

Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Shaver, 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit flight chief, explained how they are responsible for servicing and maintaining B-1 weapons systems.

"In order to provide aircrews with a serviceable aircraft that can accomplish the mission, there are a lot of different tasks we must accomplish first," Shaver said. "From loading a B-1 with a wide array of munitions and performing integrity checks to troubleshooting any issues that may arise - it's a full-time job."

Master Sgt. Joshua Klotz, 28th AMXS weapons section chief who has been a load crew Airman for more than 18 years, is responsible for managing 55 weapons troops and 12 load crews.

One of them is Staff Sgt. Ryan Wooley, 28th AMXS weapons load crew team chief. He is responsible for the overview and guidance of his team - ensuring they are capable of arming Ellsworth's B-1s.

"Without this job, munitions wouldn't be loaded onto aircraft, and aircrews wouldn't be able to protect the troops we have on the ground and destroy targets that need to be taken out in deployed locations," said Wooley.

He noted that precision is important when it comes to the handling, transportation and employment of explosive munitions.

During the last rotation, the 34th AMU utilized precision-guided munitions resulting in a 100 percent weapons release rate.

Before deploying and operating at that level of efficiency, Wooley said that the biggest challenge weapons load Airmen face is learning how to properly handle and troubleshoot the various munitions that the B-1 can employ. Weapons load crew Airmen start by going through initial certification training, which consists of a two-week course conducted at their home station.

"Two evaluators watch the load crew's performance from the initial safety briefing, loading procedures and post-load inspection," Klotz said. "If the evaluators deem them proficient within specific criteria outlined in Air Force instructions, then the crew is certified."

Weapons load crews have to train for certification on all munitions they handle. B-1 load crews at Ellsworth are certified on nine primary, five secondary and four limited-use munitions.

After this initial qualification, load crew members are required to practice loading one third of all unit-committed munitions monthly to retain certification.

Klotz said that this is, a timed event that is once again, performed under the watchful eye of at least two evaluators checking for safety, reliability and proficiency.

"I think it's amazing to train Airmen to be the future of the Air Force ... watch them develop their skills and one day perform their duties better than their trainers," Wooley said. "We get to watch them grow from an Airman with little to no experience to become a professional with a vast array of knowledge and skills."

Shaver said that training plays a crucial role in keeping weapons troops proficient for missions.

"Our ops tempo can be unreal, especially with the B-1 being a highly-utilized aircraft," Shaver said. "There's always a B-1 present to ensure that the bad guys get what's coming to them."
He added that weapons load crew Airmen are constantly evaluated and held to high standards in preparation for deployments.

"It makes me proud to know that what we are doing has a direct impact on the mission," Shaver said. "We are the tip of the spear. Our skills and dedication are part of the reason why we win the fight."