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By Senior Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
307th Bomb Wing
Senior Master Sgt. Jonathan Rider always seems to be smiling.
Maybe it’s because he gets to supervise the 707th Maintenance Squadron’s Load Crew #1 here. The group, consisting of Master Sgt. Ruey Cooper, II, Tech. Sgt. Jerome Gooden, Tech. Sgt. Uriel Vargas and Staff Sgt. Erin Williamson recently earned the Air Force Reserve Command Outstanding Munitions Maintenance Team title.
They have been together since 2021 and are the only nuclear-certified load crew in AFRC. That makes them the point of interest of many high profile visitors that want to watch them ply their trade.
But they seem to thrive on the pressure.
“I get kind of excited when people come to watch us load weapons,” said Cooper, shrugging his shoulders at the thought. “We know each other inside and out, and anyone that sees us work can tell how well we’ve gelled as a team.”
According to the team, much of that attitude can be attributed to the efforts of Rider.
He consistently highlights their efforts, including nominating them for the AFRC award.
“I love putting them in the spotlight because our leadership at Barksdale, AFRC, and even Washington need to know they have a load crew like this,” Rider said.
The team members take it in stride, joking about how proud their supervisor is of them and their efforts.
“We’re his trophy kids, and he’s our trophy dad,” said Gooden, the rest of the team laughing at the comment.
But underneath the laughter runs a deep current of respect between the team and their supervisor and a very serious attitude about the job they must do.
“We take a lot of pride in our work,” said Vargas. “Anytime any of us makes a mistake, we’re very hard on ourselves.”
Not only must the team be prepared to load nuclear weapons aboard the B-52 Stratofortress, they are in charge of training active-duty members to do the same. Still, the team has found a way to turn that added responsibility into an asset.
“When we’re training others, we see a lot of different situations, so if something like that happens to us as a team, when know what to do,” said Williamson.
That attitude of constantly learning and integrating seamlessly with active-duty partners grows increasingly important as the U.S. Air Force focuses on nuclear-capable, neer-peer adversaries.
Still, the team said they let that pressure roll off their back like all the others.
“Knowing we’re the only nuclear-certified crew in the entire command gives you a new perspective as a weapons troop,” Cooper said. “It’s in the back of your mind sometimes, but most of the time, we’re too focused on the task at hand to worry about it,” said Cooper.
For now, Load Crew Team #1 is enjoying being part of something bigger than themselves.
“I’ve won individual awards before, but I’ve never won anything as part of a crew,” said Vargas. “It’s really something different and special.”