There is an entire crew that gets an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet mission-ready and in the air outside of just the pilot in the cockpit. One of the key members are the weapons loaders who load the munitions, install and remove alternate mission equipment, and perform end-of-runway procedures to assist the jet in takeoff.
Senior Airman Sydney Byrd currently serves in this position with the South Carolina Air National Guard, 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
November 22, 2016 - U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sydney Byrd, 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons loader, assists in affixing a bomb onto the wing of an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet on the taxiway at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina. The South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing is the only fighter wing in the Air National Guard that is assigned to a stand-alone base, allowing for the capability to store, build, load, and drop live tactical assets from home station. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Megan Floyd)
“Being a weapons troop, we lift missiles and load bombs,” she said. “Basically, we get our hands dirty.”
Typically, more physically demanding career fields are dominated by males, due to the nature of the work. However, with all jobs being opened to females as of January 2016, it is becoming more common for females to serve in these labor intensive positions. And Byrd doesn’t let any stereotypes hold her back.
“Maybe as a female you might have to hit the gym a little bit harder,” said Byrd. “I make sure when it comes to work on the flight line, no one has to hold my hand. I am a crew member, just like anyone else.”
With nearly 4 years of service with the South Carolina Air National Guard Byrd has made an impact on her peers and supervisors with her work ethic and positive attitude.
“Her ability to take on projects to completion and problem solve with little input from others makes her a valuable asset to the weapons shop,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Puck, 169th Maintenance Group supervisor.
Puck added, Byrd’s competence, ambition and desire to learn set her apart when she applied for a fulltime position with the maintenance shop. Byrd continues to showcase her ambition by earning a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Clemson University and by pursuing her commission as a maintenance officer. Additionally, outside of being a weapons loader during the week, Byrd also assists the command chief with the base awards and recognition program during drill weekends.
Throughout her time serving in the South Carolina Air National Guard, Byrd said her favorite part of the job has been the camaraderie of the shop and how her guard unit has become a second family to her. This came naturally, as her brother also previously served in the weapons shop, giving her an opportunity to meet and know the personnel before joining the unit.
For others looking to serve, Byrd has some advice to share from her experiences.
“The Guard taught me service before self and, most importantly, improved my self-confidence,” said Byrd. “The Guard is 100% what you make of it…Soak up all the knowledge from your leadership and ask questions and have pride while you wear the uniform.”
By Capt. Jessica Donnelly, South Carolina National Guard
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