JOINT BASE CHARLESTON PUBLIC AFFAIRS –
The 15th Airlift Squadron is one of six airlift squadrons, three active duty, three reserve, at Joint Base Charleston. Their mission is to provide air refueling, combat-ready C-17 aircrews for strategic airlift missions worldwide. A particular group of Airmen within the squadron are the loadmasters.
An aircraft loadmaster's job is to make sure the contents of the aircraft are loaded and escorted to their destination safely. Senior Airman Derek Severson, a loadmaster with the 15th AS, has been an operational loadmaster for three years and gives his perspective of the loadmaster world.
"As a loadmaster, we take people and equipment where it needs to go, all over the world," Severson said.
Though the operational airlift community is a fascinating place, extensive technical training is required before anyone dons a flight suit and begins flying.
"Tech school is a long process," Severson said, "You graduate from Lackland, go right down the road and start your initial aircrew training there as well," Severson said. "Then you go to Pensacola, Florida, for a couple of days, then Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State for SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) training and then you finally finish in Oklahoma at Altus Air Force Base. So all in all, you're talking anywhere from seven to twelve months of training based on how crowded the schools are."
After completing a long tech school and hitting the operational Air Force, Severson listed some of the benefits to becoming a loadmaster.
Severson said, "Everyone is going to say that traveling is the best aspect to this job but I also see the rewarding aspect. When you get to bring people home that have been on long deployments, you experience how rewarding that feels."
Master Sgt. Erik Lawther, the mission support superintendent and acting 1st Sergeant of the 15th AS, gave the perspective of a senior non-commissioned officer who has years of loadmaster experience.
"I have been an operational loadmaster for 23 years now," said Lawther, "It's amazing because of the people I have met and been able to work with. Not just the military, but the people we had involved in our pick-ups and drop-offs as well," said Lawther.
Because he began his career long ago, Lawther had a much different experience in tech school than the more recent loadmasters.
Lawther said, "My tech school was all charts and graph reading. It was different because the technology hadn't been developed that we have now. The training was a unique and amazing experience only lasting about three to four months."
With having so many years of the operational Air Force as a loadmaster, Lawther was able to describe one of his best experiences in the career field.
"The greatest experience I had was being part of the Initial humanitarian airdrops in Afghanistan, back in late 2001. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career," Lawther said, "We brought food and necessary supplies to Afghan nationals who needed those supplies. And doing that, helped us gain their support."
Lawther's experience in the loadmaster world gives him an intimate perspective on what it takes to become a loadmaster.
"If you like to travel, a constant challenge and you want to make a difference in how an operation turns out, then this is what you want to do, because we do that every single day, but you have to be humble, approachable and credible. You want to be humble to know that it is okay to take the backseat sometimes. You want to be approachable so that both more and less experienced Airmen can come to you for whatever it is that they might need. Finally, credibility is a necessity because when it comes down to it, people need to know that they can rely on what you do and say," Lawther said.
Whether it is equipment, supplies or people, loadmasters ensure that everything on the cargo plane gets from point 'A' to point 'B' safely, securely and on time. They are a vital piece to the aircrew making a difference in the outcome of what happens on the plane, especially when landing or taking off. When it comes to what a loadmaster is capable of, just think about the things they do on a daily basis while flying on a whole other level.