Air Guard's 131st Bomb Wing helps man aircrew flight equipment operations

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  • By Rachel Knight
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Missouri Air National Guard and active duty Air Force are working together to make the B-2 Spirit mission at Whiteman Air Force Base a success.

The 131st - formerly a St. Louis-based Fighter Wing - changed designations to a Bomb Wing and moved to Whiteman as a classic associate unit. That mission is aimed toward achieving what the Air Force calls - Total Force Integration. In the TFI concept, active, Guard, and reserve forces work together to achieve the Air Force's mission.

In the B-2 mission at Whiteman, Airmen from the 131st work with their active duty counterparts in the 509th Bomb Wing. That blending is a perfect example of the concept at work, said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Schneider, 131st/509th Operations Group's aircrew flight equipment superintendent.

"I believe TFI provides a unique opportunity to blend Air National Guard personnel with active duty personnel," Chief Schneider said. "This relationship has and will continue to create continuity, efficiency and overwhelmingly will increase the combat capability for the 131st/509th Bomb Wings."

Prior to incorporating the Guard with active duty, the life support shop and survival equipment merged into one big group that handles everything from the pilot's equipment to survival kits and parachute packing. Master Sgt. Tim Wilson, 110th Bomb Squadron aircrew flight equipment section chief and full-time Guardsman, said the pairing between Airmen from the two components is natural.

"We've always worked closely because the equipment works together," said Sergeant Wilson.

The B-2 Bomber can remain in the air for several hours and made its longest flight when it took a mission in Afghanistan. It took flight from Whiteman Air Force Base and with the help of aerial refueling, stayed in the air all the way to Afghanistan and then back to Whiteman.

When pilots are sent out, they receive Meals Ready-to-Eat, a case of water, a cot, sleeping bags and other comfort items. They also get survival kits that include an array of items like bug spray, a knife, a raft and patches, sunscreen, flares and even a waterproof manual. The shop also custom fits anti-exposure suits to the pilots, which are worn when they are flying over really cold water.

"It gives them a few extra minutes to get out of the cold water into the life raft," said Sergeant Wilson. "It makes a big difference in chances of survival."

Two weeks ago, pilots tested a new item from the shop. It is a seat that will promote blood flow in the pilot's legs while on long missions by pumping air around in a subtle circle.

Sergeant Wilson's main job is to train the pilots on how to use the equipment the aircraft flight equipment group produces and inspects for their safety. He explained how to use the ejection seat, the parachutes and everything packed in the survival kits.

"It starts from everything they wear to the ejection," Sergeant Wilson said. "Also the tools and gadgets we give them to use and survive."

Sergeant Wilson has been in the military for 25 years. He served active duty for three years in Georgia and has been with the Air Guard for 22 years.

His career in the Guard had him working on life support items for seven years for the F-4 Phantom, 18 years for the F-15 Eagle and now, seven months on the B-2 Bomber.

Sergeant Wilson said, the personalities of the Airmen in the shop are great. The Air National Guard employs five full-time personnel with five traditional Guardsmen at the operations group with 33 active duty Airmen.

"The transition has been relatively smooth with a few obstacles as full-time technicians and traditionals learn to adapt to the evolving mission at Whiteman," said Chief Schneider. "We're not an independent Air National Guard unit like we were back in St. Louis, so it takes some time to adjust to fully integrate. The 131st/509th leadership have embraced TFI and continue to review processes ensuring the B-2 mission is a success."

Sergeant Wilson added, "There have been some growing pains because there are a few things we do different in the Guard and the active duty does differently.  We are working together to learn the best way to do the things that make operations run smoother."

Sergeant Wilson said, the job of the shop is to pay great attention to detail.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," he said.

His mentor, Jim Crimmins, who used to pack rigors in the Army Guard then moved to Air Guard, used to say, "Be sure always!"

"If we apply that to everything we do, it works," Sergeant Wilson said. "It was such a simple phrase but it caught me as the right way to do it."

And Sergeant Wilson said his fellow 131st Airmen have always done it right.

"The six Airmen that have been involved in aircraft mishaps in our squadron during my career in the aircrew flight equipment field are all still with us today at least in part because of what my co-workers and I do each day, which is to provide them with the best parachutes, survival kits, training and flying equipment that we possibly can," Sergeant Wilson said.

According to Col. Bob Leeker, Air Guard's 131st Bomb Wing commander, the integration is going very well.

"The most important concept within the classic association is one of integrating," Colonel Leeker said. "This brings the experience of Guardsman and also the stability of the Guard to each functional area. This experience and stability enhances mission capability. Together, as a team of active and reserve component Airmen, we each bring our own capabilities to the fight, and therefore we are a stronger component."

For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-888-GoGuard or visit