Yokota loadmasters keep drops on target
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- During World War II, the way service members loaded cargo onto aircraft was disorganized and lacked today's calculations. This caused problems in one critical aspect of aircraft dynamics: balance. From the need for accurate calculations and specialized handling of cargo has arisen a relatively new job.
The Airmen who perform that critical job are loadmasters. Yokota's 36th Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules loadmasters work daily to deliver airlift priorities to a larger area than any other U.S. base in the world.
Staff Sgt. Noel Jones, 36 AS C-130H loadmaster, explained that loadmasters are extremely specialized aircrew members who make sure that cargo and passengers get airdropped or airlifted safely and in a timely manner.
"If it were possible to outsource all the other positions on a C-130, there would still be loadmasters on board," Jones said. "There are so many variables with the cargo, a computer can't handle it. A loadmaster has to be there."
When Yokota calls on its Airmen to respond to a disaster, loadmasters are there to make sure that relief supplies and refugees are airlifted safely and quickly. According to Senior Airman Andrew Fox, 36 AS C-130H loadmaster instructor, Yokota loadmasters helped evacuate disaster refugees and deliver relief supplies in 2011 during Operation Tomodachi and again in 2013 during Operation Damayan. They did the same in 2015 when an earthquake struck Nepal.
"Yokota has continuously shown the ability to respond quickly to emergencies" Jones said. "We're a small unit but we're capable of responding quickly and effectively if needed."
To stay sharp and ready to respond, Yokota performs regular airlift and airdrop exercises. Recently, Fox accompanied two of Yokota's newest loadmasters on several personnel drops to train them in a realistic setting.
The drops were performed from a C-130H at 9,999 feet over Yokota. During the flight, the cabin shook from turbulence and gravity pressed down as the aircraft banked, but the loadmasters continued to walk around the cabin and do their jobs. They performed scanning duties and made sure everything was ready for the pararescuemen, making sure there were no problems during the flight or the drop.
"There is such a thing as getting your 'air legs,'" Fox said. "It takes situational awareness and it comes with experience. You have to pay attention to what you're trying to accomplish while dealing with turbulence and other obstacles that may arise."
In a combat environment a loadmaster's mission remains the same. The cargo, however, is often the difference.
"One of the best things about being on deployment is getting to bring Soldiers back home," Jones said. "They're out there for a year and when you pick them up they're just so happy. They're talking about their kids and about what they're going to do when they get back. I'm so happy that I can bring these people home."
The job also comes with challenges. As Jones explained, being a loadmaster is like other operational jobs in that they feel the pressure of having to succeed for the sake of the mission. With help from the rest of Team Yokota, they continue to get the job done.
"At the end of the day when you're covered in oil and you just pulled a 16 hour shift, it's pretty easy to go to sleep knowing that you made a difference," Jones said.
According to Jones, as a loadmaster there are times when it seems like the world is at your throat but just like with any other mission-related job they simply have to put their shoulder to the wheel because failure is literally not an option. They press on to do what they need to do to get the mission done.