CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
If someone has heard of Cannon, chances are they have also heard of the aircraft here and the impressive artillery they employ.
Boasting a 105mm M102 Howitzer, a 30mm GAU-23 cannon and the option to carry various precision guided munitions, the AC-130W Stinger II gunship aircraft is one of the most formidable weapons platforms in the Air Force. The MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft can carry a breathtaking array of guided missiles and bombs. The CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft totes a .50 cal. machine gun on its ramp to provide cover for combat landings or troop drops. Even the MC-130J Commando II aircraft, which normally executes airlift missions, is known for being the first aircraft to ever drop the GBU-43/B MOAB, the mother of all bombs.
The firepower Cannon’s aircraft are capable of is diverse as it is impressive, but there is one need they all share: ammunition. Enter the 27th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron’s munitions flight, the focal point for the construction, storage, and delivery of every bullet, bomb and missile on base.
“We support all of the combat training here by supplying the ammo needed, and then when the need arises to use that training, we have pallets of all of the same munitions ready to go at a moment’s notice,” said Senior Airman Samuel Bartolotto, a mobility technician with 27 SOMXS MUNS flight. “Everything from small 9 millimeter rounds to massive bombs, we have it.”
Tucked away in its own corner of the base, the munitions storage area, or the “bomb dump” as it is often referred to, appears quiet from the road running between it and the flight line. But behind its gates there is no shortage of busy AMMO troops performing the wide array of duties and tasks accomplished between the time a munition or its components arrive at the dump to the time it’s delivered to the aircraft or unit in need.
It all starts with stockpile managers such as Staff Sgt. Charles Canfil.
“All of our units are allocated a certain amount of munitions for the year and if don’t have everything we need, we’ll put in the order for it,” Canfil said.
If the order is approved, it will first be handled by the flight’s inspection team upon arrival to the bomb dump.
“They’ll make sure everything is serviceable and safe, and then our storage section will forklift it to our facilities to sit until we need it,” Canfil said.
“From there, our conventional maintenance section will build it up if it’s a piece that needs assembly and then line delivery will get it out to the aircraft that needs it.”
It’s a never-ending process which demands long hours and high output from AMMO troops to meet the training and deployment readiness requirements of the units they support. Despite how high their ops tempo is however, the most consistent practice at the bomb dump is safety measures and protections to keep things from becoming explosive.
“Any movements within the bomb dump are overseen by our control section,” Bartolotto said. “They account for all people and materials throughout the facility, and they call in constantly to different sections to make sure things are on the straight and narrow”
“Emergency response forces like the fire department and explosive ordnance disposal are always on standby in case of an emergency,” said Staff Sgt. Noah Beltz, 27 SOMXS MUNS flight conventional maintenance crew chief. “There is all kinds of protective equipment we have access to as well, such as grounding wires we wear while handling explosives to discharge any static electricity we might be holding.”
This level of care extends outside of the bomb dump as well.
“We do share base roads with civilian vehicles when we transport munitions, so we have very strict rules when it comes to safety,” said Airman 1st Class Michael Martin, 27 SOMXS MUNS flight line delivery crew chief. “We’ll never go faster than 15 MPH in any situation and we handle all adverse road conditions with extreme caution.”
While it can be hard to find an easy job at the bomb dump, it’s just as difficult to find an AMMO troop without pride for their job. It’s an attitude fueled by a culture unique not only to the maintenance community, but to the Air Force as a whole.
“Kind of being out here in our own part of the base and having the mission that we do, it really leads to all of us being a big family,” said Bartolotto. “We really love spending time together both at work and away from it, so we build a unity and pride that even people who have separated or retired still feel long after they get out.”
“A lot of it comes down to just the nature of our job,” said Beltz. “Getting to handle explosives constantly, being among the first to know about high-impact missions because you have to get the rounds or the bombs ready for it, there’s nothing else like it.