HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – On Friday, active duty and Reserve maintainers with the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings faced off in an F-35 weapons load competition here.
Crews selected to participate in the annual competition had previously competed in and won quarterly competitions, including teams from the 388th FW’s 4th Fighter Generation Squadron, 421st FGS and 419th FW’s 466th Aircraft Maintenance Unit .
This year’s winner was the 466th AMU, a team that included Tech. Sgt. Andrew Rapp, Staff Sgt. Mark Torres, and Senior Airman Seth Holden.
“You guys are awesome at what you do, and thanks for being aerospace athletes,” said Col. Matthew Fritz, 419th FW commander. “When you’re at the top of your game, there’s only a fraction of separation between crews.”
The teams loaded a GBU-49 bomb and one AIM-120 and AIM-9X missile on the F-35A’s external pylons. Teams were graded and timed to determine the winner.
“It’s really important to works as a team, to know your stuff so that you can move smoothly,” said Rapp, a full-time reservist in the 419th FW. “The best part of the job is seeing the jets come back empty. It makes us know our job counts for something.”
Load competitions focus on speed and accuracy – something that is key when loading live munitions in a deployed environment. Teamwork is also extremely important when it comes to weapons loading and the competition brings that out, said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Taggart, 388th Maintenance Group Weapons Standardization superintendent.
“We try to keep the same crews together,” Taggart said. “We stay together, other maintainers make fun of us because we’re always in groups of three. But it’s important to be able to work in unison.”
Sporting scraped knuckles and a big smile, Antonio Baznaian, an F-35 Aircraft Armament Systems specialist, with the 421st FGS, said the load competition is something everyone looks forward to.
“I love the grind of this, getting my hands dirty. It’s fun because we all get to come together and the whole unit cheers us on,” Baznaian said. “It’s great to compete for those bragging rights and see how good you are against the other units.”