Shouldering the Load - Young loadmasters support war on terrorism while learning from more experienced mentors

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Erick Hofmeyer
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
A hefty responsibility rests on the shoulders of many junior expeditionary Airmen in the war on terrorism.

Daniel Stone, Brian Mulkey and Sheldon Cary, all loadmasters and airmen 1st class from the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, are among the many junior Airmen making a difference on a daily basis.

These newly certified loadmasters - not long out of their loadmaster technical school at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. -- have been immersed in a world of precise weight and balance calculations throughout their first deployment rotation.

The Airmen are paired with a seasoned loadmaster who serves as a "flying partner," and stands by to pass on knowledge and experience. The team of two C-130 Hercules loadmasters work together to supervise the loading and unloading of aircraft, and to mathematically calculate the correct placement of the cargo and passenger loads to determine the aircraft's center of gravity.

The pairing is necessary for new loadmasters to perfect all of the intricacies associated with airdrop operations, providing passenger comfort and safety, scanning for threats, performing preflight checks of the aircraft to ensure all equipment is working properly, and many other tasks.

Stone said one of the most challenging parts of his deployment is keeping up with the veteran loadmasters.

"The loadmaster I fly with pushes me to learn," Stone said. "If there's something that I don't understand, he'll make me think about it and see if I come up with the answer. And if I still don't get it, he makes me look through the books so I understand how to do it next time."

Tech. Sgt. Matt Rossi, a 746th EAS loadmaster, and Stone's current flying partner, believes that for new loadmasters to learn, they have to do the work themselves and not simply watch experienced loadmasters.

"I watch and allow him to perform the loading and off-loading procedures in a safe manner, without jeopardizing the mission and causing more work for himself," Rossi said.

Sometimes the experienced loadmasters will allow the newcomers to make minor mistakes so they can learn from the mistake.

"One time early on in the rotation, I was about to bring in a K-loader, then I realized I didn't put in the ramp support to keep the loading surface flat," Mulkey said. "A ramp support has to be placed underneath the ramp if a pallet weighs (more than) 2,000 pounds. So I had to back it out, and then bring it back in. As bad as it sounds, making mistakes is a great way to learn. I'll never do that again. It was a lot of time wasted."

The junior Airmen had limited experience dealing with the needs of passengers prior to their first deployment. Working with an experienced loadmaster has helped them transport thousands of servicemembers in and out of the area of responsibility.

"We practiced briefing passengers on an aircraft with no wings in a hangar at our technical school," Cary said. "Out here, the engines are running, there's hot exhaust, and people are talking."

In addition to passengers, the C-130 can accommodate a wide variety of oversized cargo, including everything from utility helicopters and six-wheeled armored vehicles to standard palletized cargo.

The 746th EAS aircrews currently on rotation have flown nearly 5,300 hours and transported 47,800 passengers and more than 3,000 tons of cargo since they began operations Oct. 6.

"Loading the different kinds of cargo that I've never seen before has been a challenge," Stone said. "We've moved forklifts, Humvees and almost anything else that could fit."

He received plenty of practice while loading and unloading a forklift to and from the back of the aircraft everywhere they went while flying humanitarian aid missions for flood refugees in Africa.

After all the growing pains, the three loadmasters unanimously agreed that getting into a "groove" with their aircrews and simply being up in the air are the best parts of their job.

When the aircrews first arrived to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, only few had flown together, and the aircrews were not quite used to each other. Certain missions at the beginning of the rotation took upward of 18 hours to complete, but the aircrews gradually shaved time off of the missions through familiarity and experience.

"At first, people tend to pass you up and go straight to the experienced loadmaster," Mulkey said. "Midway through the rotation, things begin to start clicking. I earned people's respect, and they began to ask me for my opinion."