Inside the vault

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
While some Airmen will not experience combat throughout their career, many of them will be issued a weapon if they are placed in a hostile environment.

If that time comes, they visit the weapons vault in the 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron to pick up their weapon.

"Aside from security forces, we basically cater to all the weapon needs on base," said Airman 1st Class Jenae Bellar, 22nd LRS individual protective equipment journeyman. "So whether you work with medical or are part of a flight crew, you come to us."

IPE Airmen brief deployers on a weekly basis and train them on firearm safety and functions.

A large portion of their time is spent preparing weapons for deployments, which entails matching serial numbers, cleaning and keeping inventory.

"It's not always a routine," said Staff Sgt. Johnny Ware, 22nd LRS weapons vault NCO in charge. "A weapon that we distribute here can be assigned to several different Airmen during a deployment or end up in a different base. It's our job to constantly navigate through different scenarios to keep an accurate record."

Airmen in the weapons vault are responsible for cleaning each weapon they issue. The outcome could be fatal if a weapon is not prepared properly.

"If someone is under attack and their gun isn't firing because it's dirty, it can cost them their life," said Ware. "That would reflect badly on us, because we're the ones who make sure the weapon is ready for use."

Their work environment is not limited to a highly protected and windowless vault. They also provide explosive drivers training to Airmen in vehicle operations, teaching them how to safely transport explosives.

Airmen like Ware and Bellar participate in wing exercises several times a year. These mock-scenarios put their distribution capabilities to the test.

"If a war broke out tomorrow, we would know exactly what we need to do," said Ware. "They may need a pallet of weapons and all its paperwork ready-to-go. Whatever the situation is, you always have to keep your mind open, of course while following the 'regs.'"

Exercise or not, IPE Airmen assigned to the weapons vault have people on call 24/7.

"If we get a call at 1 a.m. saying, 'the jet is leaving in an hour and we need a weapon,' one of us will come out here and check out that weapon," said Bellar.

Handling weapons on a daily basis has debunked a lot of misconceptions that people may get from playing videogames, said Ware.

"With video games, you can keep playing for a few hours straight," said Ware. "But I guarantee you, that if you were to hold a weapon that long, your arm is going to give up."

He emphasized that the weapon's wielder is also likely to experience fatigue from loud gun shots, their sweaty-gas mask and the weight of other individual protective equipment.

Similar to a maintainer and his tools, Ware does not dismiss his team until each item is accounted for, which could exceeded the duty day.

The demands of working with high-priority equipment can be a stressful task, however, it's only one piece of the puzzle the 22nd LRS provides to improve mission readiness.