News: Bombs bring T-Bolts and Black Knights together
Story by Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Sunlight pours across everything in sight while the oppressive heat sets in, yet the local time is barely past 9 a.m.
Maintenance personnel walk assuredly toward five menacing F-18F Super Hornets. This walk is one they have done millions of times.
This scene is different for members of VFA 154, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. Today more than 75 members of the Black Knights squadron are on temporary duty assignment at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
"This is my fourth time being on temporary duty orders to an Air Force base," said Navy Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Kelly, VFA 154 weapons officer. "The support, hosting, logistics and liaison between us and this Wing has been the best I've ever seen."
The Black Knights were invited to come out and use the MHAFB Range Complex by the 389th Fighter Squadron, T-Bolts, as a way for both squadrons to get combat training scenarios accomplished.
"We are excited to have the opportunity to be here and get our junior officers and enlisted folks a chance to perform some real-world training missions," said Kelly. "Collectively as a squadron, everyone who needed to meet specific training requirements, from the pilot in the air to a brand-new E-3 weapons loader, received it. Plus the resources made available to us by Mountain Home Air Force Base were excellent and made the trip here completely worth it."
Black Knight Aircrews have been acting as Red Force during combat training scenarios against T-Bolt [Blue Force] aircraft while here. This ensures both squadrons are afforded a unique training opportunity capitalizing on each aircraft's capabilities.
"The experience is fantastic for both services," said Kelly. "Ultimately, it's great for the aircrew and maintenance personnel from both services who may not have had a chance to get that integrated training experience."
This is the first time many of the Black Knights have been here, used the ranges and really experienced Idaho.
"I have had a wonderful time here working with weapons Airmen and knew even before we arrived, my crew would be well taken care of," said Kelly. "The professionalism displayed by the Gunfighters was extremely efficient and we were able to begin operations on schedule without any issues."
The Black Knights normal range was occupied by four other squadrons which facilitated them coming here. This gave the 389th FS F-15E Strike Eagles a chance to train against F-18F Super Hornets flown by the Black Knights.
"At some point we will all be working together in the theatre of operations and this kind of training experience is extremely vital," said Kelly. "We get to watch and see how the Air Force does things and have an opportunity to learn different ways of performing tasks. The same is true for the Air Force members."
Specifically, one key difference between the Navy and Air Force is the way munitions are loaded onto aircraft.
"In the Navy we hand-load our munitions onto the aircraft instead of using a jammer, like the Air Force," said Kelly. "Both ways are effective in safely loading munitions onto the jets, which is the most important thing. Personally, I don't think I could work with a jammer, I just prefer to manually load the bomb and feel it lock into place."
Until the past few decades, occasions when Navy and Air Force personnel worked together were rare.
"Being out on the flightline and witnessing the Navy working their munitions was an awesome and very eye-opening experience for me," said Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Long, F-15E weapons instructor with the 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 7. "They are trained to manually load each munition because of space issues on aircraft carriers which we do not have on the flightline."
As military force, more integration with other branches of service and even nations are becoming the norm. Quality training opportunities for junior grades is necessary in order to successfully complete mission requirements.
"I have a really green crew who haven't had many opportunities to load," said Kelly. "Since arriving here they are developing and honing in on skills they haven't had a chance to explore or practice. We didn't bring a lot of people and to their credit they have all stepped up and accomplished our rigorous mission requirements. It's very rewarding to be a part of that and watch the transformation occur."
Kelly was enlisted for 17 years before applying for the Navy warrant officer program.
"Regardless of what branch of service you belong to the sky is the limit if you are dedicated, motivated and mission-oriented," said Kelly. "I absolutely love doing this job. When your office is a flightline or aircraft carrier you know you have something special. It was very bittersweet leaving the enlisted ranks to become a warrant officer but the fact that I can still do what I love and mentor the junior grades as the Gunner is extremely rewarding."
Weapons warrant officers are nicknamed, "Gunner" by their shipmates out of respect for their leadership and service.
"My long-term goal since I became an E-5 has been to be Gunner," said Kelly. "I wasn't really career-oriented until then so I started working toward this goal."
As the afternoon sun sails across the cloudless sky, Navy personnel are everywhere across the flightline. The heat and sun have little effect on them as they diligently ensure the Super Hornets are ready for the day's mission.
For Kelly, loading weapons is more than just his career...it's a passion.
"For me, one of the best parts about being Gunner is that I am able to continue loading and working with munitions like I did while enlisted," said Kelly. "My happy place is out there smelling jet fuel and loading weapons."