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Load crews train for deployment operations

U.S. Airmen assigned to the 77th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work on an F-16CM Fighting Falcon in the 20th Maintenance Group (MXG) weapons standardization hangar at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018.

U.S. Airmen assigned to the 77th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work on an F-16CM Fighting Falcon in the 20th Maintenance Group (MXG) weapons standardization hangar at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018. The weapons standardization hangar is utilized by the 20th MXG to help train and strengthen Airmen’s skills in applying munitions onto F-16s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)

A U.S. Airman assigned to the 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit applies roller extenders to a bomb loader at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 8, 2018.

A U.S. Airman assigned to the 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit applies roller extenders to a bomb loader at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 8, 2018. The extenders allows load crew members to apply clearance between the loading table and the munition being transported. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Ortiz, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit load crew team lead, releases lug nuts on a bomb rack at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Ortiz, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit load crew team lead, releases lug nuts on a bomb rack at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018. The lug nuts help stabilize munitions while in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Bridge, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit load crew team member, operates a bomb loader at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Bridge, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit load crew team member, operates a bomb loader at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018. The bomb loader is utilized by load crew members to help transport munitions that Airmen may not be able to transport by hand. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Bridge, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) load crew team member, left center, and Staff Sgt. Samuel Ortiz, 77th AMU load crew team lead, remove a CCG laser guided seeker from a GBU-10 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Bridge, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) load crew team member, left center, and Staff Sgt. Samuel Ortiz, 77th AMU load crew team lead, remove a CCG laser guided seeker from a GBU-10 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018. Load crew teams are required to perform training on loading and unloading all munitions from Shaw’s F-16CM Fighting Falcons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)

From left, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Bridges, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) load crew team member, Staff Sgt. Samuel Ortiz 77th AMU load crew team lead, and Senior Airman Daniel Nunez, 77th AMU load crew team member, carry an AIM-9X sidewinder at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018.

From left, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Bridges, 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) load crew team member, Staff Sgt. Samuel Ortiz 77th AMU load crew team lead, and Senior Airman Daniel Nunez, 77th AMU load crew team member, carry an AIM-9X sidewinder at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2018. Load crew members work together to carry the munition as it weigh approximately 188 lbs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Imagine mission success laying on the shoulders of the individuals to your right and left. For one team of Airmen, the shortcomings of one can be catastrophic to the task at hand.

These groups of professionals assigned to the 20th Maintenance Group, spanning three fighter squadrons, work in unison to ensure the job is completed efficiently.

The group of Airmen, known in the maintenance world as a weapons load crew, are made up of three members: a team lead who orchestrates the work being completed on the aircraft, a second member who is tasked with assembling weapon racks and launchers and a third who prepares all the munitions for installation.

Tasked with loading various munitions, to include AIM-9X sidewinder missiles and GBU-38s, the Airmen do not take the loading and handling of the munitions lightly.

“The weapons load crew performs a critical role for the close air support mission, ensuring the pilots have the correct and functional munitions to provide the air cover ground forces need,” said Tech. Sgt. Stephen Foulk, 20th MXG loading standardization crew member. “When it comes to mobilizing aircraft in support of theater objectives, the role of the weapons crews for Shaw's F-16s can be called upon at a moment's notice to forward deploy to various locations.”

These Airmen must undergo training periodically to remain skilled for both stateside and deployed operations.

“We train weapons personnel here at Shaw to do all combat loading operations needed to go downrange,” said Master Sgt. Crystal Fults, 20th MXG loading standardization crew chief. “All of our weapons personnel come here once a month to get their training and stay proficient in their craft.”

Fults went on to say the initial certification consist of an eight-day training which qualifies load crews on all certifiable items and munitions.

For Shaw’s F-16CM Fighting Falcons, the loading of the munitions must be completed flawlessly while following all technical orders. If the load crew falls short in their attention to detail in loading or unloading munitions, the consequences could range from loss of munition to loss of life.

“Our job is very by-the-book,” said Fults. “We need to train this way to ensure pilot and aircraft safety, following all technical data so we can apply them when we go downrange.”

This group of Airmen will continue to work to the best of their abilities to increase the unit’s mission readiness and success, while ensure the suppression of enemy air defenses mission is executed flawlessly.