Misawa load competition challenges weapons Airmen readiness

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The brash horn ricochets off hangar bay concrete walls alerting two three-person weapons load crews to begin the race to meet each required objective—speed, cleanliness, but most importantly, safety— while weapons experts evaluated them at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Aug. 11.

This friendly competition challenges weapons loading teams assigned to the 35th Maintenance Group to determine who loads munitions faster and more effectively. As an integral part of load crew tradition, it furthers skills and readiness and promotes camaraderie within the unit.

“Each aircraft maintenance unit weapons section picks the crew based on duty performance, load barn pass rates and quality assurance pass rates,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Rearick, a 35th MXG loading standardization crew member.

The competition grades teams on a number of factors including loading AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles and Joint Direct Attack Munition GBU-38s in a set time, while committing as few discrepancies as possible. Superiors evaluate personnel on their dress and appearance, a knowledge based test and cleanliness of their composite tool kit. They occur on a quarterly and annual basis; winning teams earn bragging rights.

“Supplying the F-16 Fighting Falcon with munitions is one way weapons load crew Airmen display their aspiration for excellence and exemplify what it takes to accomplish just that,” Rearick said. “Load crew teams are responsible for loading both live and inert munitions supporting training schedules at Misawa, as well as during contingency operations.”

When it comes to mobilizing aircraft in support of theater objectives, speed becomes a primary goal as Misawa's F-16s can be called upon at a moment's notice to forward deploy to various locations. Quarterly competitions place munitions Airmen in high-stress environments similar to what could occur if the U.S or its allies called upon the 35th Fighter Wing.

“Loading competitions help us exercise our skills and abilities to execute the mission in a safe environment and prepare us to execute missions for combat operations, all while improving morale within the units," said Senior Airman Lanier England, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew member.

Without weapons, the Wild Weasels are simply airframes, explained Col. Paul Kirmis, 35th Fighter Wing vice commander.

"The weapons and associated aircraft weapons systems on the F-16 are what turn it into a combat platform," said Kirmis. "We rely on these systems and the associated munitions to function properly in training and most importantly in combat."

"It's our highly trained avionics specialists, munitions loaders, along with our aircraft crew chiefs that maintain the combat system and are the enablers of our mission capability," Kirmis concluded.