Safeguarding the ‘boom-boom’

  • Published
  • By Howdy Stout
  • Tinker Public Affairs
It's not like the movies.

One shot does not detonate the truckload of explosives and working in a bunker filled with bombs does not make your face twitch.

"I'm more nervous driving on the highway," laughs George Eastling, the Munitions Accountable Systems officer, flight chief and quality assurance evaluator for the 72nd Logistics Readiness Squadron's munitions operations. Based on the south side of the airfield, Tinker has nine facilities dedicated for munitions storage, housing everything from the explosive cartridges on aircraft ejection seats to small arms ammunition and demolition explosives.

"That's what we maintain out there," Mr. Eastling explains. "Our biggest customer is the B-1 program. We do one to two aircraft every month. That keeps us busy."

For aircraft undergoing Programmed Depot Maintenance at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, egress explosives used on hatches and ejection seats need to be safely stored. Those explosives, and others taken from aircraft maintained at the ALC, are housed in one of the munitions bunkers.

"We even support Air Combat Command and the 507th Reserve squadron," Mr. Eastling says. "And of course the 3rd Herd has a large training program at Glenwood and all the explosives come from us."

In fact, all the small arms ammunition used by the units on base for training or deployment are stored by the 72nd LRS. So, too, is ammunition used by more than 25 units on base, including Strategic Communications Wing One, the 552nd Air Control Wing and the 3rd Combat Communications Group.

The munitions unit also supports the 137th Airlift Wing of the Oklahoma Air National Guard based at Will Rogers World Airport. The unit previously stored their supplies at Fort Sill near Lawton, Okla.

"We support them so that in case of a national emergency, they can come to us," Mr. Eastling says. "Makes more sense to be a little closer."

With more than 500 movements and up to half-a-dozen munitions trucks arriving and departing every month, the munitions operations are busy. A dedicated secure area is available for munitions-laden trucks and a "hot cargo pad" is also located near the storage area to quickly load and unload aircraft.

Shortly after 9/11 and again during Operation Iraqi Freedom, LRS crews worked round the clock to unload arriving ammunition trucks from the U.S. Army Ammunition Center at McAlester, build pallets for aerial transport and load waiting cargo aircraft departing for the war zones. "We had big, major operations going on out there," Mr. Eastling said. "A lot of small arms ammunition was going out through here."

Although the need to ship munitions was urgent, it was done safely. Munitions operations are very safety conscious to begin with, Mr. Eastling says. And with the VPP safety program, he added, operations are even safer.

"We are very VPP-oriented," he said. "We've even taken and put foam on all the sharp edges of tables and counters so no one can get hurt. We have to look out for each other out there. Everything we do is a two-man operation. You can't do anything by yourself and that's due to safety."

As the sole government oversight operation for the contracted munitions operations at Tinker, Mr. Eastling wears three hats as the munitions accountable systems officer, flight chief and quality assurance evaluator. It's a far cry from his goal of becoming an accountant when he joined the Air Force in 1977.

After training in logistics, Mr. Eastling found himself assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Being a dutiful young airman, Mr. Eastling said, he gave his orders to his sergeant on arrival.

"I thought I was going into base supply," he said. "He took one look at my orders, crumpled them up and threw them over his shoulder. He said, 'Son, welcome to ammo.' And I never worked one day in base supply. Not one day. Looking back on it, I'm very glad. It was career-broadening and a whole lot more satisfying."

His 24-year Air Force career took him around the world, including a stint as a munitions instructor at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. His students included those deploying for Desert Storm.

"That's where we teach all the munitions people how to build a frag (bomb order) for the flight line," Mr. Eastling said. "That was a very interesting tour. We didn't build up dummy stuff. Everything was live."

His last assignment brought him to Tinker, where he retired in 2001. But he soon joined Team Tinker as a contractor in munitions operations as the base became the first - and so far only AFMC - Air Force Base with contractor-operated munitions workers.

"We're the only contracted base within Air Force Material Command," he says. "We've been doing it for eight years and we've been doing fine."

As the government officer overseeing munitions operations at Tinker, Mr. Eastling no longer handles stuff that goes boom. Not that handling munitions ever made him nervous, he says. Still, he says, you'll notice that all of the facilities are located at the edge of base.

"The munitions storage area is always located away from the main population of the base," he says with a smile. "It needs to be. It's not to protect us, it's to protect the rest of the base."