Weapons loaders keep fighters ready to go
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Working long hours day in and day out can be rough for an F-15 Eagle maintainer.
However, these proficient Airmen are able to keep Kadena ready to go at a moment's notice anywhere, anytime by maintaining their Eagles year round.
"I love my job," said Senior Airman Adan Lopez, 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew chief. "I don't always know how long my days are going to be, but it is always interesting."
Lopez said even though it is a lot of work, loading munitions is a critical job for these jets because they always need to be ready for warfighting contingencies.
"Without our munitions our jets wouldn't be able to defend themselves," Lopez explained. "We work as long as it takes to make sure everything is loaded properly and ready to go."
With the Eagles having a perfect record of more than 100 confirmed kills and no combat losses in operations and contingencies all around the world, these weapons load crew chiefs play a big role in getting munitions on board in a timely fashion.
"After we load up munitions we help the other crew chiefs as much as possible to get the jets completely ready to fly," said Lopez.
Lopez said that even though loading munitions is his job, to provide premier counter air defense does not stop there. Instead, they work as a team to ensure each jet receives the attention it needs to get the job done.
Without diligent repairs and inspections on the jets by Airmen within the 18th Maintenance Group, it is unlikely any of the jets would be flying for as long as they have.
"We have three different shifts, but when we are surging or going on temporary duties we work long hours to keep the jets ready to go," said Staff Sgt. Derek Brown, 44th AMU weapons load crew chief. "We often work 12 or more hours in a day to get through all of the inspections and repairs needed to keep them in the air."
For now, Brown works the 'mid-shift' from midnight to 8 a.m. but he has to arrive for his shift an hour early for change over and then do it again at the end of his shift which often does not let him leave before 10 a.m.
Both fighter squadrons, even when not flying, on Kadena work 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, which makes for a lot of time on the job. Therefore, it's up to aircraft maintainers like Brown to ensure the jets are properly serviced and ready for launch.
"It is long hours and a lot of work," said Brown. "We are maintaining multi-million-dollar aircraft that are over 30 years old, so that's what it takes to get the mission done."
While most people don't maintain a personal vehicle for more than 10 years, the Air Force maintainers and operators here have ensured the safe operation of the F-15C Eagle stationed at Kadena for 35 years with countless, thorough inspections and repairs.
One way they practice for these inspections and repairs is through weapons loading competitions.
"All the fighter squadrons have competitions to show off how fast you can do your job correctly," said Lopez. "My load team has competed for the third quarter in row."
The competitions give the Airmen from the units a chance to show off their capabilities while promoting friendly competition and safe practices for future operations.
Lopez's team competed against the 44th FS and beat them by a mere 30 seconds in order to win the first quarter competition and gain bragging rights until the next quarter's competition.
Kadena is the largest combat wing in the Air Force with more than 50 F-15 aircraft across two fighter squadrons. These fast paced Eagle squadrons at Kadena have earned the title of best Air Force fighter squadron of the year and the prestigious Raytheon Trophy, nine times since the aircraft's arrival here.
"After being at two bases prior to this, Kadena definitely has the highest tempo," said Lopez. "It is really fun to be part of a squadron with so many achievements."
Being part of Team Kadena, which is the home of two out of three active duty air-to-air F-15 Eagle squadrons, is definitely a rough and demanding job, but Lopez wouldn't have it any other way.
"Life can sometimes be rough as a crew chief," said Lopez. "But like I said, I love my job."