Airmen face off in weapons loading competition, winner honored in April

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Two teams from the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit and one from the 466th AMU competed in an annual weapons load competition in Hangar 37 here on Feb. 13. Every quarter, crews from both active duty and reserve units race to load weapons onto F-16s, then compete for the yearly title of Weapons Load Crew of the Year.

Winners will be announced at the Maintenance Group annual awards banquet on April 11.

The 421st, an active-duty squadron under the 388th Fighter Wing, and the 466th, a reserve squadron under the 419th Fighter Wing, went head-to-head in the first-ever annual weapons load competition featuring active-duty Airmen versus their reserve counterparts at Hill.

“This year is unique since the 419th won the fourth-quarter competition,” said Tech Sgt. Arthur Trachte, 388th Maintenance Group Loading Standardization crew member. They were competing for the first time in the annual competition, which typically involves a crew from the 4th and a crew from the 421st. 

In order to compete for the title, crew members had to first qualify and win at one of the four quarterly weapons load competitions, and that, according to Trachte, is decided by each crew’s quality assurance checks.

“We hold monthly proficiency tests to test their ability to meet 100 percent quality assurance; however, the assessments don’t stop there, they can also be tested outside of the set once-a-month checks,” said Trachte. “If they surpass the required time limit to load the weapons or have a safety violation, they are automatically out of that quarter’s competition.”

This particular competition tests the teams’ ability to load one air-to-ground missile and one air intercept missile, which averages a total load time of 45 minutes.

“Because these Airmen are the best of the best, we expect them to load the weapons in half of the required time,” said Trachte. “So each team should be able to finish in approximately 25 minutes.”

On Jan. 11, reservists from the 466th Aircraft Maintenance Unit finished first as the weapons load crew of the fourth quarter, ahead of the active duty’s 4th AMU and 421st AMU. Every quarter, teams race to load weapons onto F-16s, then compete for the yearly title in February. Two teams from the 421st AMU and one team from the 466th AMU competed Feb. 13 in Hangar 37 to determine which would be named Weapons Load Crew of the Year.

The history of weapons loading competitions in the Air Force dates back before the Korean War, and this history is not lost in the motivation to compete to become the best.

“We are continuing a proud tradition,” said Trachte. “From prepping to loading to seeing our weapons reach their final destination as part of the overall mission — it’s all part of the tradition.”

As the real-world mission continues to deploy Airmen all over the globe, Trachte said it is important to continue the drive to not only be able to do your job, but to do it with sense of urgency while maintaining a high level of proficiency.

“We need them to be the most dependable people when they are deployed,” said Trachte. “These competitions are crucial because they are put through rigorous training. This is their chance to showcase their abilities and be rewarded for doing well.”

Listed below is the lineup of teams who fought for the title of Weapons Load Crew of the Year.

From the 466th AMU:

Weapons Load Crew Chief— Tech Sgt. Bryan Wicker

Weapons Load Crew Member #2—Tech Sgt. Michael Young

Weapons Load Crew Member #3— Senior Airman Jonathan Thorsted

From the 421st AMU:

Weapons Load Crew Chief— Staff Sgt. Zachary Rubinstein

Weapons Load Crew Member #2— Senior Airman Marissa Carabajal

Weapons Load Crew Member #3— Senior Airman Maria Ramirez

From the 421st AMU:

Weapons Load Crew Chief— Senior Airman Christopher White

Weapons Load Crew Member #2— Airman 1st Class Gabriel Rey

Weapons Load Crew Member #3— Airman 1st Class Rhaymark Neri

The winning team will be recognized at the Maintenance Professionals of the Year award ceremony. The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings maintain a classic association as a Total Force Integrated unit, meaning 419th FW personnel operate and maintain F-16s alongside the active-duty 388th FW.