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Airman 1st Class Jolin Daigneault, Staff Sgt. Emmett Cornelius, and Senior Airman Takiyah Prince, left to right, work together to lift a missile to be loaded on an F-16. The three are weapons loaders with the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and competed Friday for bragging rights as the best weapons loaders at Misawa Air Base.
Airman 1st Class Jolin Daigneault, Staff Sgt. Emmett Cornelius, and Senior Airman Takiyah Prince, left to right, work together to lift a missile to be loaded on an F-16. The three are weapons loaders with the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and competed Friday for bragging rights as the best weapons loaders at Misawa Air Base. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Airman 1st Class Jolin Daigneault, Staff Sgt. Emmett Cornelius, and Senior Airman Takiyah Prince, left to right, work together to lift a missile to be loaded on an F-16. The three are weapons loaders with the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and competed Friday for bragging rights as the best weapons loaders at Misawa Air Base.
Airman 1st Class Jolin Daigneault, Staff Sgt. Emmett Cornelius, and Senior Airman Takiyah Prince, left to right, work together to lift a missile to be loaded on an F-16. The three are weapons loaders with the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and competed Friday for bragging rights as the best weapons loaders at Misawa Air Base. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Staff Sgt. Rolmir Garcia, chief for load crew team 11 of the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, helps load a missile on an F-16, Garcia's team competed Friday for bragging rights as best weapons loaders at Misawa Air Base.
Staff Sgt. Rolmir Garcia, chief for load crew team 11 of the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, helps load a missile on an F-16, Garcia's team competed Friday for bragging rights as best weapons loaders at Misawa Air Base. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The job of loading bombs and missiles onto an F-16 combat jet typically isn’t nerve-racking.

But add a time constraint, friendly competition, and the eyes of watchful judges, senior leaders and fellow crew members, and the task can make an airman sweat. Even inside a drafty aircraft hangar.

Two load-crew teams with the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Misawa went wrench-to-wrench Friday during the annual weapons-loading competition.

At stake were bragging rights, names engraved on a trophy gun barrel and an impressive bullet item on one’s evaluation performance report.

The two three-person teams competing Friday were the last standing after a series of quarterly competitions between loaders from the 13th and 14th aircraft maintenance units. Each unit has more than 20 teams apiece.

This year’s finalists were both from the 13th.

“This year, we skunked the 14th pretty much,” said Staff Sgt. Rolmir Garcia, chief of Team 11.

Each team had 30 minutes to load a 2,000-pound bomb called a Joint Direct Attack Munition GBU-31, and AIM 120 and AIM 9 air-to-air missiles. Collectively, they those typically take 45 minutes to load, Garcia said.

Teams are judged on efficiency, safety, toolbox presentation, time, and dress and appearance, said Staff Sgt. Jason Eilo, 13th Fighter Squadron lead crew chief and a judge at Friday’s competition.

To win, it takes cooperation and teamwork, said Senior Airman Takiyah Prince, 23, a member of Team 2.

“Our team definitely has more experienced people” than others, she said. “A lot of us are hard workers.”

Prince joined the Air Force out of high school, leaving behind her hometown of Reserve, La., and a job at a local Wendy’s fast-food restaurant.

Weapons loading wasn’t her choice. “It was the only thing they had open when it was time for me to ship out,” she said. “It’s an awesome job, though. There’s always something different going on.”

The work was the first choice of Airman 1st Class Jolin Daigneault, 25, who works with Prince and load-crew chief Staff Sgt. Emmett Cornelius.

“I wanted to make a difference and kill some terrorists,” Daigneault said.

While the loaders had plenty of opportunities for that during their Iraq deployment this past summer, Friday’s competition was strictly for show.

As rock music pumped, the clock ticked, and teams moved quickly to load their weapons. Garcia said missteps such as a wrong fuse setting, a hand between a bomb and bomb rack, or a crack in a weapon can cost a team valuable points.

Cornelius’ team finished first, in just 21 minutes. Garcia, Airman 1st Class Robert Wade and Airman 1st Class Jose Arellano wrapped it up in 26 minutes — with sweat on their brows.

Results won’t be announced until January at a banquet, but Garcia said he was disappointed. His team had to reload a missile because, Garcia said, he forgot to remove a dust cap.

“If you catch your own mistake, it should be OK, but it depends on how they see it,” Garcia said. “We did our best.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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