BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Corey Smith, 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Viper Aircraft Maintenance Unit armament systems specialist, connects a bomb to the alternate mission equipment as it?s supported by the jammer here, March 13. The jammer is the vehicle that is used to load munitions onto the aircraft. Sergeant Smith is deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Corey Smith, 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Viper Aircraft Maintenance Unit armament systems specialist, inspects bombs after they are loaded onto the aircraft here, March 13. As the crew supervisor Sergeant Smith?s responsibility is to ensure munitions are loaded properly and checklist procedures are followed. Sergeant Smith is deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- From left, Airman 1st Class Ray Williams, Staff Sgt. Corey Smith and Airman 1st Class John Wheatley, all armament systems specialists assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Viper Aircraft Maintenance Unit, load a missile onto the wing of an F-16 Fighting Falcon here, March 13. Each crew is comprised of three individuals, a supervisor, an assistant and a driver. All three Airmen are deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Airman 1st Class Ray Williams, 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Viper Aircraft Maintenance Unit armament systems specialist, prepares alternate mission equipment for bombs to be loaded here, March 13. AME is the way munitions are attached to an aircraft. Airman Williams is deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes)
by Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
3/21/2008 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- The call goes out and people begin to scatter. There's a sense of urgency in the air that can almost be felt, like static electricity that makes the hair on your arms stand up. The pilots and crew chiefs are preparing for the mission -- to rumble like thunder overhead and strike their targets from the sky like lightning.
Thanks in part to armament systems specialists like those assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the lightning strikes its target with precision.
"A lot of people think we just attach the bombs to the racks," said Master Sgt. Cliff Hamon, 332 EAMXS Viper aircraft maintenance unit noncommissioned officer in charge.
"There are a lot of things we do to ensure they actually hit their targets," said the sergeant deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
Armament systems specialists, commonly known as weapons loaders, are responsible for maintaining, loading and troubleshooting weapons systems as well as loading them onto aircraft. They also load and service aircraft gun systems on F-16 Fighting Falcons, said Staff Sgt. Peter Yuenger, 332 EAMXS Viper AMU armament systems specialist, who is deployed from Hill AFB.
One particular weapons system component armament systems specialists maintain is alternate mission equipment, which attaches to the wings of an aircraft and, in turn, creates a means to attach munitions.
"When they [planes] have scheduled maintenance, we'll turn them in and we'll completely strip the jet; there won't be any AME on it," said Tech. Sgt. Delbert Schoonover, 332 EAMXS Viper AMU armament systems specialist. "When we get it back, we have to reinstall the AME and do then do a reliability check before we can accept any bombs to hang on the aircraft."
Each weapons loading crew consists of three members who fill positions numbered one through three.
The first position is the supervisor, who ensures the whole operation is going smoothly and according to checklist procedures. The person in the second position assists the supervisor and is responsible for the tools required for the load. The person in the third position transports the munitions to the aircraft. Together, the three Airmen perform function checks, load the bombs onto the aircraft and make sure they're properly configured, Sergeant Yuenger said.
The entire loading process, on average, can take anywhere from 45-90 minutes.
"It all depends on the crew who's doing it, which munitions have to be loaded and if there's a press for the aircraft to be loaded in a specific amount of time," Sergeant Yuenger said.
The mission requirements, directing which munitions should be loaded and in what configuration, are generated by the theater commander and relayed to the crews by the expediter, Sergeant Hamon said.
The expediter manages the people on shift and sets loading priorities according to the flying schedule and timelines. He or she coordinates with munitions flight Airmen to get the bombs, missiles and bullets as well as chaff and flare (used as countermeasures when aircraft are fired at) required to load the aircraft.
While the weapons loaders need to be able to perform their duties in a fast and efficient manner, safety is a priority.
"A lot of career fields train on an annual or semi-annual basis," Sergeant Hamon said. "In our career field, we train and certify on weapons safety and handling on a monthly basis."
Another responsibility of an armament systems specialist is maintaining the avionics storage management system, which allows the aircraft to communicate with the load on board such as GPS-guided munitions.
"The aircraft has a computer box in it that sends a signal throughout the aircraft," Sergeant Schoonover said describing the avionics storage management system.
Yet sometimes problems arise with the mission-critical system. "You can have a malfunction anywhere through the wire harness or the wing span or a circuit card gone bad in the box," said the sergeant who is deployed from Hill AFB.
"It's like the engine light coming on in your car," Sergeant Yuenger said. "You know something is wrong, but you don't know what it is."
It's the weapons loader's job to locate the problem and correct it.
With all their responsibilities, the armament systems specialists assigned to the 332 EAMXS Viper AMU, are integral in helping the Air Force maximize its key capability of precision targeting.
"You feel like you have a really big part in what's going on [with the war]," Sergeant Yuenger said. "There's a saying in this career field, without weapons it's just another airliner."