Luke Reserve Citizen Airmen hold first load crew competition

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Senior Airman Alberto Hernandez, 944th AMXS armament systems load crew member, competes Nov. 8, 2020, during the 944th Load Crew competition at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (Air Force photograph by Tech. Sgt. Nestor Cruz)
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Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 944th Maintenance Group hosted their first ever load crew competition Nov. 8, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

Two teams, one assigned to the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the other to the F-35 Lightning II, competed for 944th Load Crew of the Year bragging rights during the event.

“Since we have two different styles of aircraft, we’re one of the few units that can do an internal wing load competition,” said Chief Master Sgt. Ralph Thompson, 944th Maintenance Squadron weapons manager. “Most other units only have one AMU [Aircraft Maintenance Unit] they work out of.”

The F-35 team consisted of Staff Sgt. Joseph Cius, 944th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew chief, Senior Airman Jocelyn Zavala and Senior Airman James Meeks, 944th AMXS armament systems load crew members. This team competed with their active-duty counterparts last year, beating out eight of the best load crews at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, to become champions and was the team to beat in this year’s 944th event.

“It was my first year loading an F-35,” said Cuis about winning last year’s base event. “It’s the drive, how serious people take it, and it is how well everyone performs that day. Communication is key.”

This year, Cuis and his crew were defeated by the F-16 team led by Tech. Sgt. Dylan Logsdon, 944th AMXS weapons load crew chief, along with Senior Airman Alberto Hernandez and Senior Airman Jonathan Olea, 944th AMXS armament systems load crew members.

“They’re a great crew as defending load comp champs, but it was nice to shine some light on the legacy side over here on the F-16 side,” said Logsdon. I attribute the victory to Hernandez and Olea, we went with the motto, ëslow is smooth, smooth is fast.’”

Load crew competitions are designed to encourage friendly interaction among load crew members and enable them to display the high skill level at which they operate. Teams compete by loading a number of weapons onto their respective aircraft in the fastest time and with the fewest errors. The two load crews were graded on a written exam of 25 questions, their CTK [Composite Tool Kit] to make sure all tools were accounted for and no FOD (Foreign Objects or Debris] was in their box prior to loading, and loading the munitions safely.

Each crew was selected by their supervisor to compete based on their evaluations throughout the year, quality assurance statistics, and overall work performance.

“They train consistently and must conduct monthly MPRLs [Minimum Proficiency Reliability Loads] to retain their certifications,” said Thompson. “We have to make sure they’re proficient at every munition we have on our munitions list. When we are in combat down range we have to be quick and all the time we are saving to get that aircraft up faster is valuable. There also have to be no mistakes. It does us no good if we get there faster if the munition doesn’t do what it is intended to do.”

Col. Scott Briese, 944th MXG commander, praised Thompson for being instrumental in orchestrating the 944th event and shared his vision for future events.

“Next year, we hope to incorporated the Fighter Wing’s geographically separated units from Davis-Monthan [A-10 Thunderbolts] and Seymour Johnson Air Force Bases [F-15E Strike Eagles] into the annual 944th FW Weapons Load competition.”

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