Without us, it’s just another airline

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
When weapons on an A-10 Thunderbolt II do not fire, the mission fails. To prevent this from occurring, a team of technicians rotate and reset wrenches daily to ensure those munitions get where they need to go.

Active-duty and reservist Airmen from the 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons flight are the ones who maintain the armament and ammunition loading systems that allow the Warthogs to put bombs on target.

When active-duty and reservist Airmen work together to accomplish a mission, it creates a unique training opportunity. It allows pipeline Airmen to learn from men and women with decades of experience.

"The reservists have worked on these jets on the active-duty side for sometimes up to 20 or 25 years," said Airman 1st Class Cameron Wheatley, 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament systems technician. "So, we get a lot of really cool perspectives from guys that know the jet like the back of their hands. They know this job inside and out."

In addition to the active-duty Airmen, the flight Wheatley works in also includes air reserve technicians.

"Air reserve technicians are civilian status Airmen who work throughout the week in civilian status and perform the same duty in uniform during their drill weekend," Wheatley said. "It's pretty well integrated here. As active-duty Airmen, we're here to augment their forces and help them out."

As an armament systems technician, Wheatley is responsible for making sure weapons are correctly installed on the A-10.

"We'll do operational checks and scheduled maintenance to ensure the weapons are functioning properly," Wheatley said. "As weapons loaders, we like to say that, 'Without weapons, it's just another airline.' We take a lot of pride in what we do because of the simple fact that without weapons, bullets and bombs, there wouldn't be an Air Force."

Wheatley joined the Air Force to see the world outside his hometown of New Palestine, Ind., and take advantage of educational benefits.

"I love the Air Force," Wheatley said. "I've met a lot of really awesome people since I joined in April 2012."

One obstacle Wheatley and other Airmen had to overcome was adjusting to the living environment in the Whiteman dormitories.

"The main difference is that I don't have my family around anymore," Wheatley said. "At times it can be difficult to be away from them. But it's a pretty cool environment because a lot of Airmen in our shop get together on the weekends, so we spend a lot of time together."

Out of 30 technicians in the weapons flight, only six are active-duty Airmen living in the dorms.

"We've kind of banded together," Wheatley said. "In an active-duty unit there would be more of us, but because of the situation here we don't have many Airmen. So I think we've become really close because of that aspect."

Dorm council participation was one thing that helped Wheatley bond with his fellow Airmen.

"Living on your own, as opposed to living with your family, is a little different, so I've tried to get involved as much as possible," Wheatley said. "I'm the dorm council president for the building I live in. We're working on getting events together so we can make life more fun. I believe this will [mitigate] some of the classic dorm resident issues Airmen run into as far as being lonely and homesick."

Whether loading weapons on A-10s or making the quality of life better for Airmen in the dorms, Wheatley always follows the Air Force core value of "excellence in all we do."

"Wheatley has excelled extraordinarily by greatly enhancing our mission impact, our 'fully mission capable' rate and our weapons reliability rate," said Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Gibson, 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons flight chief and wing weapons manager. "He came here straight out of technical school without a lot of experience. Technical school can only give you so much. It isn't until the individuals actually get into the field and actually start working on the line that they learn their knowledge."