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A Tight Fit: Rescue Squadron Loadmasters Train with Uncommon Cargo

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kelly Goonan

Ensuring they are prepared for any curve ball that might be thrown at them, loadmasters assigned to the 920th Rescue Wing’s 39th Rescue Squadron spent a week practicing specialized cargo loading at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, recently.

The intense training, led by the 34th Combat Training Squadron, challenged the combat search and rescue loadmasters, based at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, to test and reaffirm their ability to quickly calculate, load and secure various military vehicles, aircraft parts and other uncommon cargo within the HC-130J Combat King II aircraft. 

“Some of the cargo we were exposed to was very uncommon and unlike most cargo we’ve seen in the past from a rescue standpoint,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dean Scalise, 39th RQS loadmaster. “For example, we loaded a Humvee with a trailer, an MQ-9 Reaper transport coffin, an HC-130J engine and prop, and a truck so large we had to deflate the tires to load it. Learning techniques to load larger vehicles really made the loadmasters think about new ways to accomplish the task.”

Loadmasters are responsible for performing pre- and post-flight preparations and coordinating air-to-air refueling. They also must accurately compute the weight and balance distribution for the loading, securing and offloading of cargo and passengers to ensure all loaded assets are secured for the duration of the flight.

“For aircrew, rank doesn’t exist on the airplane in the interest of safety,” said Master Sgt. Spencer Schenkelberg, 39th RQS loadmaster. “This training allowed the loadmasters to make decisions in the interest of the mission and have the confidence to override someone of higher rank. If the restraint is wrong and comes loose, it could be catastrophic.”

While the demands of a loadmaster’s job require continuous training loading and offloading various types of cargo and equipment, combat search and rescue loadmasters aboard the HC-130J aren’t frequently exposed to larger-scale and less-common types of military equipment and personnel. 

The HC-130J Combat King II, an extended-range combat search and rescue variation of the C-130 is structured differently than the C-130 Hercules. While the aircraft platform looks almost the same on the outside, the interior of each variation is different, Schenkelberg explained.

“Where we had clearances for cargo that were incredibly tight, a Slick (C-130 Hercules) sometimes does not because of where equipment is installed,” he said. “In some instances, we were clearing the cargo door by less than an inch. When you’re loading the smallest of cargo transport-type aircraft and your cargo is clearing within an inch, it takes special experience and skill to do it quickly and efficiently.”

The training session paid quick dividends for the 39th RQS loadmasters when they had to evacuate all of the wing’s aircraft in anticipation of Hurricane Ian a week after returning from Little Rock. The loadmasters successfully loaded and transported something they’d not yet done on the HC-130J: a tug – an all-wheel-drive powertrain vehicle used by maintenance workers to manually tow aircraft.

The Little Rock training not only refreshed less-frequently-used skills and knowledge, but also re-instilled the need for the loadmasters to be innovative in order to find the best solution when met with a unique request to transport various pieces of cargo and equipment.

“This training is vital to anyone going down range, even if they are assigned to a dedicated cargo mission,” Schenkelberg said. “For the most part, our mission isn’t a cargo-hauling mission. For us to be forced to think outside of the box and get creative with solutions was invaluable. I feel confident now that if someone is down range and a similar scenario is presented to them, that individual will think back to this training and potentially see a more efficient solution.”

(Goonan is assigned to the 920th Rescue Wing public affairs office.)