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Critically Manned: Loadmaster, flexibility is key to success

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joel Bonnet, 79th Rescue Squadron loadmaster, straps down cargo during the pre-flight operations on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 11, 2012. The 79th RQS is one of three rescue squadrons stationed on D-M. (U.S. Air Force photo by Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Josh Slavin/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joel Bonnet, 79th Rescue Squadron loadmaster, straps down cargo during the pre-flight operations on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 11, 2012. The 79th RQS is one of three rescue squadrons stationed on D-M. (U.S. Air Force photo by Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Josh Slavin/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joel Bonnet, 79th Rescue Squadron loadmaster, regulates the oxygen to his helmet prior to take off on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 11, 2012. The 79th RQS operates the HC-130P/E "Hercules" and provides rapidly deployable combat search and rescue forces to theater commanders worldwide. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Josh Slavin/ Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joel Bonnet, 79th Rescue Squadron loadmaster, regulates the oxygen to his helmet prior to take off on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 11, 2012. The 79th RQS operates the HC-130P/E "Hercules" and provides rapidly deployable combat search and rescue forces to theater commanders worldwide. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Josh Slavin/ Released)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --  (Editor's Note: This feature is part of the "Critically Manned" series. These stories feature career fields that are critically manned at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.)

Loadmasters play a critical role in the Air Force's mission to transport supplies and military personnel to various points around the world. However, D-M's loadmasters have a unique mission that requires their skill to perform rescue missions, as well as moving cargo and personnel.

A loadmaster's job consists of an array of different tasks, from accomplishing loading and off-loading aircraft to computing weight and balance for cargo. They also play a role in the mission once the aircraft is airborne. They monitor cargo and passengers, provide assistance to passengers as required, and demonstrate the use of emergency equipment such as oxygen masks and life vests.

Master Sgt. Michael Boyles, 563rd Rescue Group loadmaster, believes the job is very tough and demanding but is extremely rewarding at the same time. "My favorite thing about being a loadmaster and working in the 563rd RQG is knowing that I was part of saving someone's life," Boyles said. "That is the most rewarding thing. These things we do, that others may live."

The 79th Rescue Squadron here currently has approximately 30 loadmasters manning authorizations. Due to lack of manning in the career field however, they are only able to fill roughly half of the positions. This includes the 79th RQS Airmen that are currently deployed.

Boyles thinks flexibility is key and that it takes a special type of Airman to handle the job. "We undermanned because it is difficult to keep Airmen in the career field due to the unstable work schedule and constant traveling," Boyles said. "It is tough on the guys with families, and some of them prefer a set schedule".

Being part of the 563rd RQG presents D-M's loadmasters with a unique mission. The 563rd RQG specializes in combat search and rescue missions. This puts a higher emphasis on transporting special forces troops and injured military personnel.

The primary duties for an HC-130J Combat King II loadmaster include assisting in the recovery of distressed or isolated personnel, use night vision goggles for tactical flight profiles to avoid detection and accomplish covert infiltration and exfiltration operations and to transload patients in and out of unimproved, low illuminated, short airfields.

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