By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 07, 2014
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
One way Air Force Global Strike Command shows the value of superior technical and weapons system expertise is through weapons load competitions.
In keeping with that spirit, Airmen from Whiteman's 13th and 393rd Aircraft Maintenance Units and Air National Guard Airmen from the 131st Bomb Wing competed in the 2013 Load Crew of the Year competition at Whiteman on Jan. 24, 2014.
The competition showcased teamwork, precision and attention to detail among Airmen in support of nuclear deterrence and global strike operations, and also provided a chance to recognize the most outstanding weapons load team of 2013.
"Competition breeds excellence," said Lt. Col. Mark Riselli, 509th Maintenance Group deputy commander. "[It's good] anytime there's competition that introduces a little bit of healthy stress into the loading environment. You're loading against peers, you're loading against time and you're loading to be the best."
This healthy competition between the 509th and 131st Bomb Wings also creates a great opportunity for Airmen participating on both sides, Riselli said.
"The crews loading during the Load Crew of the Year competition are truly the best," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Biddlecome, 509th MXG B-2 Spirit loading standardization crew member. "They've already won one or more quarterly load competitions. So if you're a young Airman watching the competition, you know what you need to do to become excellent."
The competition provides younger Airmen an opportunity to see more experienced loaders in action. This allows the newer Airmen to get a chance to work with team chiefs as they handle different situations that arise during a high-stress environment.
"Not everything goes as planned," Biddlecome said. "Sometimes you have to stop, improvise and come up with a solution that still meets Air Force regulations."
In addition to the competition benefiting Airmen, it also gives junior noncommissioned officers a better leadership perspective.
"Loaders become tight with everyone on their team," said Tech. Sgt. Hugo Astudillo, 509th Maintenance Group load standardization crew member. "They learn from each other and they learn from each other's experiences."
As NCOs and senior airmen pass down their experiences to younger Airmen, it creates a constant, synergistic chain of learning, Astudillo said.
The loaders who competed were evaluated in a multitude of areas, including safety, timeliness, reliability, a 25-question written test and a dress-and-appearance inspection.
The load barn is no exception when it comes to dress and appearance, Riselli said.
"If you look sharp, you are sharp and you act sharp," Riselli said. "From the moment you walk across the fence line to the load barn, if you're looking sharp then that's an indicator that you're going to act sharp. Your dress and appearance and how you perform on a test is definitely linked to how you're going to perform on a task."
The 25-question test is also an important aspect of the competition, Biddlecome said.
As one of the NCOs who creates the test, Biddlecome gets to include some questions on the test that challenge loaders.
"Some of the questions on the test loaders haven't seen before," Biddlecome said. "There is a lot of stress and thought that goes into these questions when Airmen take this test."
In addition to the 25-question test and dress-and-appearance inspection, the most dynamic part of the test being evaluated by the judges are the loading tasks themselves. Judges were specifically looking at safety, reliability, proficiency and timing of the loads.
"Each team had to load five 500 pound inert conventional munitions," Riselli said. "What we looked at first was safety -how the crews handle the weapons and maneuver as a team in confined spaces in and around the aircraft."
Not only is safety an important aspect of the weapons load process, but it is also critical in every aspect of aircraft maintenance, Riselli said.
"Safety is the number one thing we talk about every day in training and it's the number one thing we consider when loading weapons on a B-2," Riselli said. "Safety and compliance is the bedrock of everything we do in the aircraft and munitions maintenance realm."
When evaluating reliability, judges looked at how the weapon was loaded, fused and interfaced with the aircraft, Riselli said.
"Our instructors are watching and critiquing every aspect of a training load, to include this competition; we want to be absolutely certain a weapon is reliable and will hit the intended target when released from the aircraft," Riselli said.
Load proficiency is defined as crew members' ability to precisely execute procedures the same way every time a munition is loaded.
"Proficiency is the ability to perform a technically adequate munitions load every single time and this completion will give each team an opportunity to showcase their skills," Riselli said. "We have a world class full-size B-2 mockup trainer that we use which is critical to the successful training of B-2 weapons loaders."
The full-size B-2 trainer is the only trainer of its kind in the Air Force, and it provides a unique and vital opportunity for young Airmen to practice loading.
"We have Airmen with varying levels of knowledge and experience on all the crews and this is great for young Airmen to be a part of - being on a team with a seasoned technical sergeant who can impart a lot of knowledge," Riselli said. "But it is important to highlight and not forget each member of the team plays a critical role regardless of rank or experience. We are still very much relying on that 18- or 19-year-old to perform their portion of the load flawlessly on a $2 billion aircraft."
In addition to demonstrating proficiency, Riselli said timing is also a very critical aspect to loading weapons to the B-2.
"We want to be safe, but we also want to get it done in an expeditious manner because that becomes important in supporting real-world operations," Riselli said.
Overall, win or lose, one rewarding part of being a weapons loader is working with a group of teammates to see the fruit of their labor delivered to the enemy's door-step.
"You're beside your teammates the entire time," Biddlecome said. "The camaraderie is what kept me doing that job. People depend on me and I depend on them."
The winner of the LCOY competition will be announced by Col. Chase McCown, 509th Maintenance Group commander, during the Maintenance Professional of the Year banquet on Feb 7.
"We know who the winner is, but we're not going to tell the Airmen until the night when they're in front of all of their friends and family," Riselli said. "That's a good venue to do that."