MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Sweat drips off the maintainer’s brow as his hands glide over the dense cold metal, locking and loading the munition into place with the precision of the weapon in mind, aiding in the defense of Japan and air strike capability.
“As weapons loaders we make sure the systems we rely on are able to function on command so we can remain the best in air superiority,” explained Airman 1st Class Andre Patterson, a 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew member.
Weapons loaders work in teams of three in order to safely load and unload weapons on the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Each crew member has their own set of responsibilities.
“As a weapons loader, it is important to ensure our weapons are ready to go and mission capable.” said Staff Sgt. Cesar Otero-Moya, a 14th AMU weapons load crew team chief.
In weapons loading, the ‘one man’ has the checklist, overseeing and informing the team of all the necessary information including safety requirements.
The ‘two man’ is responsible for preparing the loading station for the team, and the 'three man’ is responsible for making sure the munitions are safe and align with mission requirements.
The ‘three man’ also drives the MJ-1 jammer to lift the weapons up for attachment to the aircraft.
Weapons loaders work around the clock, rotating shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week ensuring every aircraft is armed properly and safely.
“We train to sharpen our skills and maintain our readiness as weapons loaders,” expressed Master Sgt. Eric Sparks, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons loading element NCO in charge. “Our Airmen work day and night, ensuring we practice the best tactics and procedures for the safety of the U.S. and our host-nation.”
They load the munitions onto the aircraft, perform end-of-runway inspections and armament maintenance.
The purpose of EOR is to arm the munitions on the jet and ensure it is safe to fly. The EOR members are the last ones to give the go ahead for the jet to launch.
"We pull the safety pins and perform the final checks on the aircraft before we send it off to complete its mission," said Patterson.
Patterson hasn’t been a weapons loader for very long, but has developed a strong love for the career field.
“I love the in-depth knowledge that comes with this job,” said Patterson. “People on the outside looking in might say we just ‘put bombs on planes’, but my day-to-day really consists of more complex tasks like trouble shooting, reading schematics and swapping harnesses.”
Weapons loaders working EOR are responsible for getting the last look-over.
"When I hear the jet take off, there’s a sense of pride,” expressed Patterson. “It’s an overwhelming feeling to know the jet is armed with the munitions I just loaded. It’s satisfying knowing I did my job right."