Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. (November 15, 2023): The year was 1942 and the Japanese fleet prepared to ambush the Americans in the Battle of Midway. Unfortunately for them, their ammo loaders failed at their tasks and the outcome of the battle turned the tide of the Pacific War. History records that U.S. fighters came upon Admiral Nagumo’s fleet as they were switching bombs on their aircraft, explosives lying all around, creating a powder keg that destroyed the Japanese force.
American Airmen today are determined not to repeat that mistake.
In this photo by Samuel King Jr., Senior Airman Yvener Desir, Airman 1st Class Andrew Bankson and Staff Sgt. Michael Rosa with the 96th Maintenance Squadron race against time to best the efforts of other ammo teams to win the annual weapon loading competition. Seen here building a Joint Direct Attack Munition GBU-31, the ammo teams quickly and precisely build the bombs to be loaded onto an F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
This event is designed to evaluate weapon loading teams under the pressure they would experience in actual combat. Affectionately called a “Load Toad,” ammunition loaders are often the uncelebrated key to launching successful strikes against the enemy. In an average day, Load Toads equip ten or more aircraft with a wide variety of weapons in a highly choreographed ballet that requires hours and hours of practice until they know the routine by heart.
Each Airman has a specific set of responsibilities throughout the loading process while the team chief monitors the weapons checklist to ensure all facets of the load are accomplished correctly. To be the best, teams must develop a rhythm that anticipates the actions and commands of the others to ensure a smooth process under incredibly stressful conditions.
This year’s winner was the team from the 96th Test Wing earning them a trophy and bragging rights as the “Best Loaders” for year 2023.