by TSgt. Dan Heaton
127th Wing Public Affairs
12/9/2012 - SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- Empty. That's how Technical Sgt. Travis Morgan prefers to see the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
"When we deployed (to Afghanistan), we'd send them out with a full load out: rockets, bombs, missiles, a full load in the gun. We'd send out a fully loaded jet and they'd come back empty," Morgan said. "Loading real bombs, supporting real missions. We were working 12 hour shifts and we'd load 'em back up and send 'em back out. That's what this job is all about."
Morgan, Senior Airman Tim Reid and Senior Airman Vince Kelly were named the weapons load team of the year by the 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, after turning in the top performance during the squadron's annual loadeo competition, Dec. 8, 2012, at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. During the annual event, a three-person weapons load team stands for a uniform inspection, takes a written test on job-specific skills and then performs a weapons load on an A-10. Morgan was the team leader.
Morgan has been a weapons loader on the A-10, the ugly aircraft know as the Warthog that has a well-deserved reputation as the ground troop's best friend, for about 12 years. He began his military career working on the A-10 when a squadron of Warthogs were stationed in Battle Creek, Mich. He transferred to the 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, part of the 127th Wing, at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, about three years ago.
"I think to be good Airman in the weapons career field, you need to be a problem solver," Morgan said. "You look at a lot of different systems and if you run into a problem, you have to be able to think on your feet and start working through ideas. How do I fix this? It's a fun career field to be in."
Chief Master Sgt. James Thomson said the annual weapons loadeo focuses on both the problem-solving and fun aspects of the career field.
"Obviously, a contest like this is about esprit de corps and recognition - and the parking spot. Everyone wants that reserved parking spot for the load team of the year," said Thomson, wing weapons chief.
Thomson said the winning team - and any good weapons Airman - has to exhibit good mechanical sense.
"You need to be handy to do well in this job. Mechanical, electrical, you deal with a variety of issues," he said. "And you have to be ready to do it out in the weather, too. We perform the loadeo inside, but typically you just need to be outside, dealing with it. Some people just love it, to be working hands-on the airplane like that."
During the weapons loadeo, teams of Airmen were judged as they loaded a GBU-38, GBU-12 and AGM-65 on to the aircraft.
"These are all weapons we use on a regular basis, but in the loadeo, the teams really put the pressure on themselves. They all want that parking spot and the prestige that goes with it," Thomson said.
During the competition, the judges are watching closely for any possible safety issues and grading the team on adherence to the established sequence and standardization methods used in the weapons loading arena.
"Standardization is a huge thing for us," Thomson said. "It is a reliability issue. What we put on the aircraft, needs to be able to come off the aircraft correctly when the pilot calls for it."
It takes about 13 or 14 months from the day a brand-new Airman swears in and he or she is full qualified as a weapons troop, Thomson said, counting basic military training, technical school, local "seasoning" training and additional correspondence courses.
Airman 1st Class Benjamin Engel joined the 127th AMXS weapons shop about two years ago. He was on one of the finalist teams during the loadeo.
"All I knew when I enlisted was that I was interested in working on the airplanes," Engel said. "I didn't know much about planes or even the Air Force initially - and certainly didn't know anything about weapons systems.
"There's a lot to know to be part of a weapons team. Every type of bomb or missile has a little bit of a difference to it, so you really have to pay attention to what you are working with," said Engel, who is also a student at Western Governor's University. "This shop's been great to work with. We have some guys who are really experts at what they are doing."
Comprised of approximately 1,600 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marked its 95th year of continuous military air operations in 2012.
Source (including 3 photos)