Weapons Airmen prep jets for combat
ANDERSEN AIR BASE, Guam -- Each duty day of exercise Cope North begins with the calming glow of a golden sunrise, as dozens of Airmen line up side-by-side across the Andersen Air Force Base flightline to sweep their workspace of debris, clearing space for F-15 Eagles to taxi.
Among the line of maintainers is an indispensable team of weapons technicians from the 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, whose livelihood literally revolves around airpower.
It's our responsibility to make sure the aircraft is armed with weapons and bombs so that our pilots have the means to use them,” said Staff Sgt. James Smith, 67th AMU weapons team load chief. “It's really a thrill, knowing that we are a major key toward making missions happen.”
Weapons Airmen flew from Kadena Air Base, Japan, to support 15 Eagles from the 67th Fighter Squadron during the annual exercise. This year’s iteration of Cope North includes a total of 22 flying units comprised of members from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, U.S. Navy, Air force and Marine Corps.
Having three militaries together in one centralized location presents a broader range of airframes, making an exceptional opportunity for weapons Airmen to learn from one another.
“It’s pretty exciting when we get the opportunity to work with other Air Force units and other nations because we get to see each other’s systems,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Mcoy, 67th AMU weapons team load chief. “We don’t necessarily work on each other’s jets but we get to compare the different ways we operate. So when we notice others doing something more safely or quickly, we can adapt ourselves to it and improve our methods; and that works both ways as well.”
When engines start across the flightline, weapons Airmen are sure to follow. Teams of three approach each roaring aircraft, inspecting the weaponry that was configured and loaded by the night-shift crew.
The day-shift makes sure the munitions are safely installed and arms them one-by-one before each jet is marshaled out for a training mission with JASDF and RAAF aircraft.
Training sorties between forces are held to increase interoperability in simulated combat scenarios, with a concentration of air tactics, techniques and procedures.
Eagles from the 67th Fighter Squadron are designed to dominate the skies through air-to-air combat, with the ability to escort and defend allied aircraft or clear a path for long-ranged bombers, such as the participating B-1B Lancers from the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron.
Regardless if weaponry is live or inert, it’s always treated with immense care, said Airman 1st Class Victoria Barsness, 67th AMU weapons team load member.
The skill levels and competencies of weapons load teams can vary considerably; so much that Airmen have added a competitive spin to their craft at their home station. Members of the 67th hold quarterly weapons load competitions with their neighbor unit, the 44th AMU, to see who can safely load their jets in the shortest amount of time.
Together, the two squadrons are responsible for maintaining 54 Eagles. Their hosting island, Okinawa, is considered to be the Keystone of the Pacific for its strategic location and capabilities to deter threats and support allies in a combined effort to promote stability throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific.
While Cope North 17 is coming to a close this week, service members are ending the exercise with ‘Weapons Fest,’ an annual gathering between units in the weapons community.
“Weapons Fest is always a good time,” said Smith. “It’s pretty much the best networking opportunity out there within our career field. We’re just lucky to be able to get together like this on an ongoing basis so that we can learn from each other and combine our airpower.”