HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Before the New Mexico sun has a chance to singe the desert’s cool, morning air, Staff Sgt. Aaron parks his car, drops off his cell phone and keys, and enters the compound through a chain-link fence at the controlled entry point.
At 6:45 a.m., it’s time for the next shift of Airmen at the 49th Maintenance Squadron Ammo Flight to get to work.
Checking in with the last shift, Aaron starts his inspections. After examining munitions and trailers stored in climate-controlled buildings, he briefs his team at their daily morning standup -- reviewing safety procedures and giving a rundown of the day’s production schedule.
As a munitions crew chief, Aaron oversees all work being done to ensure the safety and efficiency of his team. Part of their safety measurements require them to leave their cell phone and key fobs behind -- they wouldn’t want the signals from these devices to cause an explosion.
Aaron and his team build, transport and maintain bombs. Any stray signal, if strong enough, could trigger the firing component in a munition. The majority of these munitions are built to be used by F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots for training.
“Here at Holloman, we support the F-16 training mission,” Aaron said. “We enable F-16 (pilots) to train with munitions they will be using overseas in deployed locations to fight people like ISIS or anyone else that is an adversary to the U.S. Air Force.”
For many of these dedicated crew chiefs, their mission is more than just a job.
“My favorite part of the job is building bombs,” Aaron said. “It’s fun to see a trailer of bombs go out to the flight line and then return empty.”
While the 49th MXS also supports MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, their focus is on the conventional munitions used by the F-16. These conventional bombs do not have a guidance system and rely solely on the skill of the pilot.
Precision Guided Missiles are the other type of munitions that the Airmen at Ammo work with. These type of missiles have a computer chip installed that allows for a more precise strike.
Weapons aren’t the only thing being manufactured inside the munition compound.
These professionals also specialize in defense systems. They construct multiple types of flairs that are used by aircraft to deter radar and heat-seeking missiles.
“We are the ones who give the munitions to the people who go fight,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth, a 49th MXS line delivery crew chief. “Without us, those people don’t have the means to defend themselves.”
To many of the F-16 crew chiefs and pilots, Kenneth is just the guy who drops off a loaded trailer full of bombs. What they don’t know is the amount of work that goes into getting the munitions there.
“There is so much more to ammo than people realize,” Kenneth said. “As a line delivery driver, we interact mostly with the flight line. That’s what the flight line sees. What they don’t see is what’s on the other side of the fence. They don’t see the inspection shop inspecting the components that go into the bombs to make sure they’re serviceable. They don’t see the storage crews who break their backs storing and pulling the heavy boxes out on the trucks, and rolling them out to the build sites. They also don’t see us loading up our assets and moving them to other bases that need it. They don’t see the coordination that we have with the other agencies on base. All they see is bombs on target – and that is what we try to give them.”
Air superiority is more than having Aircraft and weapons greater than that of our enemies. It is born in the fighting spirit of the troops. The Airmen at Ammo Flight are the backbone of what it means to fly, fight and win.
“Without our job, those fighter craft are just an expensive airline,” Kenneth said. “Without us, there is no mission.”