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Troops hope their work doesn't come home

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Master Sgt. Stephen Sims gives each bomb a number to track the weapons produced and expended. Sims is the production supervisor, or "pad dad," for the munitions flight at a forward-deployed location supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Barrett)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Master Sgt. Stephen Sims gives each bomb a number to track the weapons produced and expended. Sims is the production supervisor, or "pad dad," for the munitions flight at a forward-deployed location supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Barrett)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (AFPN) -- They descended on a forward-deployed location with one focus: building bombs. Not just any bombs. They wanted to build the kind that don't come back. It is the lifeblood of any ammo troop.

They didn't build for two weeks, just long enough for them to get antsy, wondering when they would get their chance. They conducted routine operations until they could build. But being in ammo is not about paperwork.

It is about building things that go "BOOM."

Once the word came down, the crews hunkered down, braved the weather and started building, and they have not stopped yet. Because the bombs they are building have not come back.

For these airmen from the 5th Munitions Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., there is nothing worse than building a bomb and then taking it apart to go back into the stockpile. "Watching an aircraft come back empty is the ultimate in job satisfaction," said Master Sgt. Stephen Sims. "We build, they bomb - that's the mission and the mission wouldn't happen if it wasn't for our bombs."

Sims' office is the build pad, where every bomb starts its life, and his job title is production supervisor, but everyone calls him the "pad dad." The pad dad controls everything, from safety to munitions control. The build pad is where the squadron's hard work comes together, culminating into the reason for their being and producing what they've been training for.

For the ammo airmen, training is very much a part of the daily grind in the bomb dump. Their mission here has been successful so far thanks to "Ammo Warrior," a monthly training exercise at Minot.

"Ammo Warrior is a generation exercise that keeps us proficient and prepares us for the real world," said 1st Lt. Fransisco Vega, munitions flight commander. "If we're not deployed, we're training to deploy."

Preparing to deploy is not restricted to what happens on the build pad. It starts at home.

"Our main concern was getting families ready, letting them know what to expect and informing them of what was available to them while their spouse was deployed, especially services offered by the family support center," said the lieutenant, who is on his first deployment. "Those who had deployed before shared their experiences and tips on how to handle separation."

Taking care of the families is what Vega believes makes a successful deployment.

"If our people are worried about how their family members are doing, they won't be focused on the job. We want to give them a sense of security."

Many airmen here, as well as their families, had previously felt the sting of separation that deployment brings.

"We've been getting hit hard," said Master Sgt. J.C. Riggs, talking about the unit's deployments to other bomber locations. Riggs is on his second rotation in one year.

Currently on her second deployment in the past six months, and with only two years in the Air Force, Airman 1st Class Zoua Vong doesn't mind the fast rotations.

"I don't have a family so I don't mind deploying. I'm enjoying the opportunity of being able to go different places."

Sims and Vega agree it isn't a hard sell to get ammo troops to hit the road.

"Most ammo troops are already motivated anyway so it wasn't a problem when we knew we were going to deploy again," Sims said.

"Everyone was mentally and physically ready," Vega added. "Ready to take care of what needed to be done."

Minot's ammo troops make up slightly more than one-third of the munitions flight. Rounding out the unit are airmen from four other bases, including reservists called to active duty.

In addition, not all of the airmen on the build pad are "to the bone" ammo troops. Airman 1st Class Jason Hodge is a missile maintenance troop augmented to the ammo unit.

"I volunteered to be augmented because in my career field we don't get to be a part of conflicts like this," he explained. "I wanted to do something different for a while. I'm glad I volunteered because it's great to see those B-52s go. I feel like I'm a part of their mission."

Being part of the mission is what it is all about to these ammo troops, according to Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Quattlebaum, munitions flight chief.

"Here we get to see of the results of our builds. At Minot, we build training (inert) assets," Quattlebaum said. "When inert assets are dropped, all you get is a big thud. The bomb is buried in the ground. Sometimes we do build live assets and we do get feedback, but the purpose and effects aren't the same.

"We're part of a large team that contributes to the success of a larger team," he continued. "Seeing the empty racks and getting a thumbs up from the pilots is one of the most enjoyable and successful feelings an ammo troop can have."

As the building continues, spirits remain high. Every B-52 that returns from a mission and taxies by the build pad is greeted by ammo troops welcoming the crew home and a large flag waving proudly over the pad. The aircraft's wings are empty. The bombs -- their bombs -- aren't coming back. Mission complete.


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