39th Rescue Squadron loadmasters train for uncommon rescue requirements

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kelly Goonan, 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

In an effort to broaden their skills to load uncommon equipment in rescue situations, 39th Rescue Squadron loadmasters completed specialized cargo-loading training at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, in September. 

This intense training, led by the 34th Combat Training Squadron, challenged the combat search and rescue loadmasters 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. For example, we loaded a humvee with a trailer, an MQ-9 Reaper transport coffin, an HC-130J engine & 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 task,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dean Scalise, 39th RQS loadmaster.

Some of what an Air Force loadmaster is responsible for includes performing pre- and post-flight preparations and coordinating air-to-air refueling. Additionally, they must accurately compute 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. 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,” said Master Sgt. Spencer Schenkelberg, 39th RQS loadmaster.

While the demands of a loadmaster’s job require continuous training loading and off-loading 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 aircraft platform, 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. 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,” said Schenkelberg.

One week after this training, the 920th Rescue Wing evacuated all its aircraft in anticipation of Hurricane Ian. While preparing the aircraft for evacuation, the 39th RQS loadmasters were faced with the challenge of loading something they’d not yet done on the HC-130J; a tug, an all-wheel drive powertrain vehicle used by maintenance to manually tow aircraft. To ensure the Loadmasters were equipped with the knowledge necessary to safely secure this piece of equipment, they requested a copy of the Air Transportation Test Loading Activity letter.

“During the training the week prior, the instructors refreshed ATTLA letters, which is a document that has loading and restraint criteria on specific cargo. It also depicts where the tiedown points are on the cargo. ATTLA letters are something we have all been trained on but haven’t had to use in years, if ever, so the training was solidified during that mission,” Schenkelberg said.

For any loadmaster or aircrew, the training provided by Little Rock not only refreshed less frequently used skills and knowledge but also re-instilled the need for these Airmen to be innovative in order to find the best solution when met with a unique request to transport various cargo and equipment.

“This training is vital to anyone going down range, even if they are assigned to a dedicated cargo mission. For the most part, our mission isn’t a cargo-hauling mission. For us to be able to go to Little Rock, 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,” said Schenkelberg.