Quarterly load competition: Gunfighter Airman shares his experience

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alaysia Berry
  • 366th Fighter Wing
Having a job in a career field that works in munitions is no easy task.

Airmen in the weapons career field play an important, yet often overlooked part in ensuring that munitions can be delivered safely, swiftly and accurately from 366th Fighter Wing F-15E Strike Eagles.

Weapons load competitions are held quarterly to instill morale within Airmen that work with weapons. In addition to building morale, the competitions also help build the Air Force’s next generation of adaptable leaders, who thrive when challenged.

During a load competition, teams compete in multiple categories, including taking a knowledge-based tests, uniform and toolbox inspections, and loading munitions on a jet.

One Airman participating in this quarter’s load competition for the first time is Airman 1st Class Timothy Ponzi. Ponzi works as a weapons load crew member for the 389th Fighter Squadron.

Ponzi, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, described how he felt about the upcoming competition.

“There will be a lot of people watching,” Ponzi said. “I feel prepared, but I don’t want to make any mistakes.”

Staff Sgt. Zachary Hall, 389th Fighter Squadron weapons standardization load crew member, explained more about the competition.

“To compete in a load competition, only the best are selected. Our aim is to do the job as quickly, and safely as possible with little to no mistakes.”

The morning of the load competition is busy as members from various fighter squadron prepare for the competition by inspecting their jets and checking over their toolboxes for the last time. Halloween music plays in the background and the chilly air grows with chatter as more people start to arrive.

When the competition starts, Ponzi is moving quickly around the jet with his teammates. It is clear that extreme care and precision go into making sure the munition is loaded onto the jet properly.

His brow is furrowed in concentration as he does the tasks needed of him, which include making sure his body is centered before picking the munition up so it won’t fall off the jammer, driving at a steady pace so a teammate can aid him by holding the munition and loading the bomb once the time is right.

One quality that he believes helped him during this time was his ability to work well with others.

“I can find the groove of others and match it,” Ponzi said. “This is not a job meant to be done alone. It is important that you rely on your wingmen.”

After all the teams loaded their munitions, it was time for the last component of the competition - the bomb loader maneuverability course.

This particular bomb loader maneuverability course was Halloween themed - complete with skeletons that the operator had to lift carefully using the munitions lift truck and bring to the other side of the course while simultaneously navigating a series of cones.

Ponzi went first, navigating the course quickly, carefully and with ease. He was a tough act to follow, and he was rewarded accordingly for his work with a trophy for being the winner of the intense maneuverability competition.

“I really do love my job,” he said. “I enjoy getting to work with my hands, and not a lot of people can say they work with weapons.”

After winning an award for his outstanding performance and gaining additional experience loading munitions, Ponzi is even more mission ready and prepared to be a valuable asset in today’s Air Force. Gunfighter Airmen working in weapons are developing into leaders of the future, one munition load at a time.