Monday, September 28, 2015
74th EFS weapons bring thunder to Estonia
by Andrea Jenkins
23d Wing Public Affairs
9/28/2015 - AMARI AIR BASE, Estonia -- When a pilot locks in on a target and fires, the mission is complete. Whether that mission takes place during training at home or in a deployed location, the Airmen responsible for loading those weapons know it's all about teamwork, trust and cohesion.
It is that mentality the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Aircraft Armament System specialists plan to share with their NATO counterparts during theater security package deployments in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
These Airmen work in three-person teams to load munitions on the 12 A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft that are deployed from the 23rd Wing, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. They will spend the next several months working alongside their NATO allies to further develop interoperability.
"Your three-man is your family no matter where you're at," said Airman 1st Class Austin Kobus, 74th EFS weapons load crew team member. "If you're stateside or deployed and you need help, they are there for you -- whether it is with family or work, your team is there for you."
"The team chief is like a father figure, he's the one that keeps everyone in check and makes sure everyone's staying out of trouble and being safe. While at work you can't do the job without each other," Kobus said.
This TSP deployment is a first for Moody's A-10s and a first for both Kobus and his load crew team chief and each agree that at times it can be stressful but they rely on each other.
"This is awesome but there are some unique challenges operating here," said Staff Sgt. Josh Stephenson, 74th EFS weapons load crew team chief. "The weather, having our equipment geographically separated, operating out of a unique airfield and just being in a foreign country in general bring a different set of stressors that you don't experience at home station."
"It has to be cohesive. We have to work together as a unit. Being on the crew that I am on currently -- this is the first time loading together. You have to be able to flexible, very adaptive to the situation and to the other two members of your team and learn to build that team communication."
But what makes for an exciting first deployment brings with new stressors, added Stephenson who leads a three-man load crew in loading and configuring munitions on A-10s to prepare for the next training mission.
"I think it's fantastic to deploy here, learn from and work with foreign NATO allies - it's not something you get to do a lot at home station," said Stephenson. "Just seeing how the Estonians operate, the different languages, the culture - it's just an exciting opportunity to work alongside someone you normally would never get to."
From their aircraft and munition preparation to post load checks, the job doesn't change for these Airmen. They hope not only to get the job done and further interoperability, but to make friends and exchange some best practices with their Estonian counterparts in the process.
"This is just a great way to make a tie between us," said Kobus. "Since we came in, we have been working side-by-side and now were on a first-name basis. It seems to me there are a few things they are a little bit behind on compared to us. But there are things they do that we wouldn't have even thought to do - like some of their equipment can do our job better than our equipment - so we have been exchanging ideas on how they do a typical load and how they work through their issues."
The relationship may have started at work but Kobus says a group of Estonian airmen have already taken him around to different cultural sites, shown him where to get groceries and do laundry.
No matter the location, these Airmen love what they do and gain a sense of accomplishment when a pilot expends the munitions they loaded.
"Whether it is here or home station, there is a sense of pride knowing you sent something up there and it came back empty," said Stephenson. "It is pretty cool to watch the stations you loaded come back with nothing on it."
"This is our first deployment, so it is very unique, exciting and it's been nothing but an awesome experience so far and we have only been here a few days," Stephenson added. "I hope this not only strengthens our NATO alliance, but maybe we will work more with them in the future. It builds their confidence in us that we have their back and we can work together cohesively in the future."