Packing a punch for combat power

  • Published
  • By Capt. Don Kerr
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Laser and global positioning systems-guided munitions have taken a lot of the guesswork out of bombing so the accuracy and precision of putting bombs on target gets better and better.

At the root of that process are weapons loaders. Since the beginning, when someone first strapped a bomb under the wing of an airplane, the "loaders" became the people with the critical responsibility of making sure bombs are attached, armed and ready.

"Bombs are smart enough to hit where they're aiming," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Skocz, a weapons loader with the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. "But in this business, you have to make sure you do your job right every time out. Peoples' lives are at risk, not only the pilot's, but the people on the ground as well. One wrong move here, and someone's life could be at stake."

A fighter jet ready for combat today can carry 10 times what one could carry in Vietnam. Today, jets can fly farther without having to refuel and can carry huge arsenals of weapons to take out multiple targets. Combat has evolved along with the modes and methods along with it, but what remains the same is the basic tenet of airpower -- putting "bombs on target."

With fighters, a three-man weapons load crew can outfit a jet with a full complement of weapons in 20 minutes. On an average day at one forward-deployed location supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, six to seven crews work a shift to make sure the right bombs are ready and armed for the day's missions. Turning more than 20 jets an hour means the potential to put a lot of bombs on target.

"We don't know if the mission will call for the bombs to be used or not," said Senior Airman Jamie Harris, another weapons loader with the 336th EFS. "But when that jet comes back empty, it means mission complete. You did your job right."