HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Airmen in the 388th Maintenance Squadron’s Munitions Flight are honing their skills together in preparation for a world-wide Air Force competition.

For the second year, Beale Air Force Base, California, will host the Air Force Combat Operations Competition where teams from each major command will compete for the Sierra Trophy, and the title of best munitions flight in the Air Force. The 388th Fighter Wing will compete against seven other Air Combat Command wings for the chance to represent the command later this year at Beale.

Although most of what they do is behind the scenes, munitions flights are a key link in the “kill chain.” Before a combat sortie, the flight will receive a tasking order for a specific munition. These come on pallets, crates, and in barrels in various stages of assembly. The Airmen then assemble the bomb, installing fuses, fins, and guidance systems before delivering the munitions to the flight line load crew, who arm the aircraft prior to the launch.

While the bomb-building competition is mostly for bragging rights, the real value is in building cohesion and the skills required to operate smoothly and efficiently in a deployed environment said Staff Sgt. Justin Moore, 388th MXS bomb pad crew chief.

“When we go down range we need to be ready,” Moore said. “In our career field we have direct impact on fighting the enemy and supporting troops on the ground. This is great preparation.”

The competition, held for the first time last year, is meant to test Airmen in several different areas that will be vital to wartime success. During the evaluation, 388th Airmen will be given a short notice tasking order and graded on assembling one of these four different bombs – GBU – 12, two versions of the GBU – 31, and GBU – 49. This week, they’re practicing with all of them.

The Airmen will also be evaluated on setting up the munitions assembly conveyor, a rack-like system with lifts and belts used to build and move munitions, some of which can weigh thousands of pounds. Inspectors will also look at speed, safety, and proper procedures, Moore said.

The 10-person teams are meant to be made up of a diverse skill sets and a variety of experience: three 3-levels, four 5-levels and three 7-levels.

One of the Airmen practicing is Airman Mackenzie Lakatos from Anne Arbor, Michigan. She joined the Air Force in April 2018 and has been in the career field for only six months.

“I joined to do something different. To do something that no one else was doing,” Lakatos said. “One things I love about the Air Force so far is everyone pulls together to get the mission done. I’ve enjoyed this training and I’m learning a lot.”

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