57th MXG Load Barn: Safety, standards, certification

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Senior Airman Rook Laird, 57th Maintenance Group Tomahawk Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 Fighting Falcon weapons load crew member, ensures a munition is secured during a weapons load certification at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., April 27, 2020. Rook was part of a three-man team undergoing their loading recertification held by the weapons standardization section better known as the load barn. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Julian W. Kemper)
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Even in the midst of a pandemic, weapons loading crews from the 57th Maintenance Group at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., must earn and maintain proficiency because they are essential to the Air Force’s combat and training missions.

To do that, they must certify under the watchful eyes of the Weapons Standardization shop, otherwise known as the “load barn.”

“Any time new weapons troops arrive to the base, we have to certify them,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnson, 57th MXG weapons loading standardization crew lead.
“Then, every month they come down for their monthly proficiency review load to ensure they continue to maintain safe loading standards.”

While some mission areas have slowed operations, Weapons Standardization remains because stopping load crew certification would have a ripple effect across the base’s flying operations.

“If load crews don’t stay certified, they can’t load specific munitions onto their aircraft,” said Master Sgt. LaMarr Richmond, 57th MXG loading standardization crew lead. “Then when the flying schedule has that munition come down for training, they won’t be able to use it. If the pilots aren’t getting the training they need, it affects our combat air forces.”

Staff Sgt. Thomas Grise, 57th Maintenance Group weapons standardization instructor, observes the progress of a weapons load crew recertification at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., April 27, 2020. Each instructor oversees one-member of the load crew and assesses their ability to perform particular responsibilities during the loading process. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Julian W. Kemper)

Though the job still needs to be done, Airmen at the load barn have made significant changes to the way they do business and are dedicated to ensuring they remain safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We operate with a good amount of flexibility,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher August, 57th Wing weapons manager. “Some folks might not be evaluated in (our building), but we’ll go and evaluate them at their unit or on the flight line. We’ve scaled back our schedules and personnel, but are still able to fulfill our requirements to stay proficient.”

The load barn Airmen have adapted new practices such as wiping down all surfaces and munitions between each load to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is one of those unique opportunities to thrive, and my folks are doing amazing at it,” said August. “The evaluation piece that we contribute to, allows the operators to keep at it, and fight the fight they need to.”
 
 
 
 

Master Sgt. LaMarr Richmond (left), 57th Maintenance Group weapons standardization crew lead, inspects a weapon load crew as they undergo certification at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., April 27, 2020. Richmond primarily observes the crew lead during the load certification. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Julian W. Kemper)

 
 
 
 
Weapons standardization instructors from the 57th Maintenance Group observe as a weapons load crew moves an AIM-9X training missile onto an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., April 27, 2020. The 57th MXG weapons standardization section must certify load crews on their ability to safely and proficiently load munitions on their respective aircraft. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Julian W. Kemper)

 
 
 

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