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Kunsan Airmen arm F-16s during Red Flag-Alaska

by Capt. Shannon Collins
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office

4/23/2010 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) -- Airmen with the 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron hone their wartime skills during the 10-day combat exercise known as Red Flag-Alaska at Eielson Air Force Base from April 19 through May 18.

"Without weapons on jets, they are just plain aircraft," said Capt. Drew Garcia, officer in charge for the 80th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. "An integral part of the maintenance team who generates combat sorties are the weapons load crews." These Airmen usually work in teams of three, ensuring the fighter aircraft have all the bombs, missiles and bullets they need to make them lethal fighting machines.

Each day is planned well in advance, starting with the fighter squadron weapons officer who leads the development of the attack plan for the days ahead. From here, the munitions flight assembles the weapons and delivers them to the flightline, where the weapons load crew takes over and loads the aircraft. Staff Sgt. Adam Hatch has been a weapons crew member for almost 10 years, and is now a crew chief. He said this training is invaluable.

"The training here is effective and important," he said. "It allows us the opportunity to load more live munitions so that our pilots can fly in realistic wartime scenarios. It also gives us weapons loaders an opportunity to showcase our talents in a high-paced exercise."

Some munitions are loaded using a specialized vehicle known as a jammer. Others are loaded by hand, some requiring all three team members to hand carry and attach them to the aircraft.

"All of the loads require timely and precise skill, teamwork and strict compliance with the tech data," said Captain Garcia. "Exercises such as Red Flag-Alaska allow these load crews the opportunity to practice in a deployed environment, working with various types of precision guided munitions, both inert and live, that they normally don't deal with at home station."

The weapon of choice at Red Flag-Alaska is the Joint Direct Attack Munition GBU-38. Throughout the exercises, the weapons crews are tasked to load more than 100 live and inert bombs and more than 5,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition.

"In comparison, these are more bombs than they will load in an entire year at home station," said Captain Garcia. "These exercises validate the crew training and certifications with real-world munitions, improving the weapons crewmembers' ability to crush their enemies in battle."

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