By Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith, 40 AEG Public Affairs
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM – Each day, B-1B Lancers from the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (working from the 40th Air Expeditionary Group) conduct long hours of in-theater air coverage in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In a recent one-week period, B-1s provided close air support to Coalition forces in contact with enemy forces more than 21 times.
During the same period, B-1s also destroyed various Taliban extremists’ compounds with precision weapons. The current weapons tempo, the heaviest since the beginning of OEF in 2001, wouldn’t be possible without the behind-the-scenes Airmen who work to get loaded B-1s off the ground.
This is part three of a three-part feature highlighting the often overlooked ground efforts to get the bombs on target.
The 40th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron Munitions and Weapons Sections supply the firepower that B-1B Lancers use to support Coalition ground forces in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Munitions builds the bombs, and weapons loads them on the plane in two completely different, yet conditionally related, aspects of the big process.
The casual observer might get a sense that the two sections don’t appreciate each other. However, Airmen in both sections describe the relationship as brotherly. To be more detailed, some said it could be compared to brothers who always fight. It might appear as if they don’t like each other, but as soon as a non-brother starts trouble, the brothers immediately team up with each other.
The first step of loading a jet with ammunition is to build the bombs. Senior Master Sgt. Steven Morrison, 40 EMXS Munitions Flight chief, said that process starts when his office receives an Air Tasking Order.
“When the ATO comes in, we tell Det. 1 (36th Maintenance Group Detachment 1) the components we need, and they deliver them to the assembly pad,” said Sergeant Morrison. “Tech. Sgt. Wilbert Terrell (36 MXG Det. 1) and his people do a great job of getting us what we need to put the bombs together and deliver them to the jets.”
Airman Kevin Yale, 40 EMXS Munitions Systems apprentice, is one of the people who works to put the bombs together. Although this is his first deployment, Airman Yale’s supervisors find him very capable of performing such an important task.
“We build them (the bombs) on a munitions assembly conveyor,” said Airman Yale. “With a good crew, we can build one bomb in about six to eight minutes.”
Airman Yale said the typical crew here is about eight or nine people. The crews used to have more builders, but the 40th Air Expeditionary Group’s split operations have forward-deployed some of the builders.
Airman Yale said when building the bombs, he works with parts like fins, fuzzies, strakes, lanyards and fuses, to mention a few.
“It feels pretty good,” said Airman Yale about putting together weapons that are used in real combat situations. “There’s some extra pride involved. We put the ‘power’ in air power.”
Once Airman Yale and his coworkers are done building, 40 EMXS Munitions Line Delivery personnel drive the bombs to the flightline, where the 40 EMXS Weapons and Armament Sections fill their roles in the process of getting the bombs to the fight.
The two Weapons sections are responsible for more than just loading bombs. Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Semler, 40 AEG Weapons manager, said the two shops are also responsible for scheduled maintenance on their equipment, troubleshooting, weapons configuration, reconciliation and after-fire inspecting.
“After a rack is fired, carbon builds up in the racks,” said Senior Airman Brekke McNair, 40 EMXS Aircraft Armament. “We have to make sure we get everything ready for the jet to do it all again. We make sure the pins and connectors are clean and working properly. If anything breaks, it won’t be able to drop the bombs.”
Airman 1st Class Cody Mazur, 40 EMXS Aircraft Armament, said training at home station has given him the knowledge he needs to complete his mission in the deployed environment.
“This is the real version of what we prepare for at home,” said Airman Mazur. “There’s no space for error here because every time you do your job, you might be saving someone on the ground.”
Once everything is ready, crews of four Airmen from the armament section load the weapons on the aircraft. According to Senior Airman Jose Oropeza, 40 EMXS Weapons loader, each person on the crew has a certain responsibility in the loading process.
Once the weapons are loaded, armament and weapons Airmen continue the process until they get the opportunity to greet a returning aircrew.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Airman Oropeza. “You get excited when a jet you loaded comes back empty.”
Airman 1st Class Carlos Jones, 40 EMXS Weapons loader, said he understands how his work on the ground helps save Coalition lives.
“I know I’m a part of OEF,” said Airman Jones. “I touch every bomb that my crew loads. When one of the jets I loaded drops bombs, I know I touched those bombs.”
The Airmen from both the munitions and weapons sections know that if they don’t do their jobs, the B-1 won’t have anything to drop on the bad guys.
“Without weapons, the B-1 is just another airplane,” said Airman Jones.
See also: parts one and two.
Operation Enduring Freedom: Maintenance Crews Critical to Operations