Weapon loaders put to the test

By Tony Parra

Weapon loaders at Cannon Air Force Base have a motto when it comes to their job — without weapons an F-16 fighter jet is just part of another airline.
A trio of three-man teams battled for the title of “The Best Weapons Load Crew” on Friday during the 27th Fighter Wing’s quarterly weapons loading competition.
Tech Sgt. Dale King said the allotted time to assemble the weapons onto the aircraft is 62 minutes. He said on the average it takes teams to load weapons is between 45 to 50 minutes.
Just because it’s a contest doesn’t mean it’s race.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Popplewell, Staff Sgt. Omar Rodriguez and Airman Kevin Semallie were cautious and thorough as they loaded two air-to-air missile interceptors and two bombs on an F-16.
Crews are also judged on uniform inspection, a written exam and an equipment inspection.
The competition is to keep weapon loaders proficient in loading weapons on aircraft when needed in times of combat.
“I’ve had a blast,” Johnson said about his time as a weapons loader. “We work in teams of three and have developed a good camaraderie. We’re smaller (as teams than in past years). We’ve had to do a lot with about half the people (since he first started as a weapons loader). I think that has to do with technology and improvements in training.”
King said the three people on each team must be able to gel because they spend so much time together in their duties. He said even though the bombs and missiles are not live, the judging crew expects the weapon loaders to treat them as live to mirror combat situations.
“We feel we’re one of the higher-skilled groups,” King said. “We’re a tightly knit group.”
The contest winners will be announced Monday at the awards at the maintenance group luncheon.