JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
A glimpse into the world of munitions involves warehouses full of ammunition, bombs, trailers and trucks. It includes Airmen who spend their days working with their hands in all kinds of conditions and supervisors who know their way around base defense ammunition and air defense munitions with equal amounts of agility. Munitions Systems specialists are Airmen tasked with handling, storing, transporting, arming and disarming non-nuclear weapons systems. The Munitions Systems career field is commonly referred to as "ammo."
At first, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson ammunition operations seem massive. Ten duty sections and more than 270 service members are spread across four flights of operations including a $137 million munitions stockpile. But that’s not even that large compared to other Air Force ammo organizations. Some stockpiles reach upwards of billions. It’s a huge mission with national implications; and its spread thin.
But this isn’t just an ammo story. It’s a story about total force integration. Because what happened over the course of a couple of years in the frozen southern regions of main-land Alaska has become a model for how TFI functions. Here, ammo active duty and Reserve professionals work side-by side, all day, every day. Though there are several units who can claim that sort of integration on JBER, few do it as well as the 477th and 3rd Munitions Flights, which can now be considered a model unit for the Air Force’s push toward a total force enterprise.
That TFI construct is important because ammo is almost always in a state of transition, for instance the current phase out of the AIM-9M missile system over to the AIM 9-X, and reservists tend to have more longevity at a single location.
“Most of us were prior active duty,” said Senior Master Sgt. Keith Long, munitions flight chief. “We all came up here to Alaska and loved it and wanted to stay. For the last couple of years we’ve been slowly changing the hearts and minds of our active duty counterparts, all coming together as a team.”
In just a short period of time, the Arctic ammo reservists have gone from not flying any munitions at all to leading munitions for TDYs. That leadership and increased stability can be invaluable for a mission that is as broad and technical as munitions.
“In ammo, we are not centric to one aircraft,” said Technical Sgt. Joe Dunlavey, a munitions section non-commissioned officer. “Most Airframes have dedicated specialists – crew chiefs. That doesn’t happen with us, we can work anything, any Air frame, any time.”
That “anything” can range from 5.56 gun ammunition and anti-personnel mines for base defense to aircraft egress, chaff/flare, missiles, J-DAMS and everything in between. Ammo handles all munition processes on JBER, from building and assembly to transportation. Cradle to grave munitions operations also leads to one of the largest CFETP’s in the Air Force. Dunlavey, for instance, worked on A-10’s previously, and Technical Sgt. David Caudell, who serves as a munitions systems technician, had experience with multiple aircraft ranging from B-52’s, F-15s and 16s to C-17s and C-130s before coming to work with the F-22 Raptor at JBER.
The need for these jack-of-all-trades professionals across the Air Force means the career field is critically manned. As JBER grows the infrastructure grows, but real estate and time don’t expand; instead, major renovations and additions compensate for the speed and scale. According to Staff Sgt. Austin Shippy, 477th Fighter Group member who works as a munitions controller.
“That’s where joint and integrated operations really get to work. The TFI and joint operations have been great here,” he said. “We work hand in hand with the Army ASP and the Guard helping with assets and infrastructure.”
Despite this everywhere-all-the-time mission though, ammo could still be described as the red-headed step child of the operations world. Standoff and safety requirements mean munitions often have to be located a considerable distance away from the rest of the main-base operations. In addition, ammo has one of the largest deployment footprints in the Air Force. From bare-base set up to 1K lb. bombs on target, ammo conducts all munitions operations including storage, transport, building, testing, and disposition.
“We have such a huge mission when it comes to the warfighting capability,” said Long. “We just don’t get a chance to highlight it all of the time because of the operations tempo. But we’re out here, our guys like what they do, and it’s a great place to work.”
“The best part of ammo is the comradery,” said Shippy “It’s hard work and when you’re dealing with deploying and putting skills to work, then see the planes come back stripped bare, it’s especially gratifying. You bond with each other. We like knowing we’re providing the enemy the opportunity to die for their country.”