Whiteman load crews put to the test
By Airman 1st Class Torey Griffith, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 05, 2010
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Four Airmen stand at attention, poised and polished, ready for action.
The team leader, with a stern look of confidence in his eye, shatters the silence. "Break," he calls out, and the crew rushes to the B-2 weapons-load-trainer, each to his position, putting years of muscle memory and adrenaline to use.
Recently, two highly-trained, four-man crews went head-to-head as they competed for the title of "Load Crew of the Year," here Feb. 3, 2010. The winner will be announced at the Maintenance Professional of the Year banquet in March, .
"Ultimately, competition is healthy," said Senior Master Sgt. Ray Smith, weapons standardization superintendent. "Things we do on the trainer set the framework for what goes on in real life situations. It gets these guys in the books and makes them better at what they do. If we hold them to the highest standards here for the competitions, we know they are going to do the right thing out on the line."
What the crews do in real-life situations is critical. Hanging a 10-foot-long bomb that weighs 2,000 lbs., capable of penetrating 11 feet of reinforced concrete, calls for precision, attention to detail and the most extreme safety precautions, but the competition scrutinizes much more.
"During the competition, we're tested on the composite tool kit (a trailer containing all of the tools and equipment required to load weapons, in which everything must be picture-perfect,) we take a written test, and undergo an AFI 36-2903 (uniform) inspection on all load crew members. Then we're judged on the load itself," said Staff Sgt. John Thomas, weapons-load-team chief.
A team of judges hawk-eyes the crew as they quickly and precisely work to mount the inert bomb in the simulated B-2 bomb bay.
"Whether it's an inspection team that comes in, or a real-world tasking that comes down, we know the crews know what they are doing," said Sergeant Smith. "That's where the competition comes in, to make them better. One safety violation, and they're done."
Safety, efficiency and speed are the goals.
"The weapons load career is a pride thing." Sergeant Smith said. "These competitions are a big deal to us."
Winners will be announced March 12, 2010 at the Maintenance Professional of the Year Banquet.
"We call it the Pro-Bowl of weapons," said Senior Airman Michael Tomaski. "There are four quarterly load competitions, this load, and the winner here today goes to the 8th Air Force load."