OKINAWA, Japan - With the flip of a switch, a crewmaster turns on an auxiliary power source to prepare the aircraft’s engines for startup. Moments later, the engines of the KC-130J Super Hercules roar to life as lights flicker in the cockpit, granting access to the pilot interface.
Marine crewmasters serve as a crossbreed of the crew chief and loadmaster job specialties, putting in the work to make KC-130J flight operations possible.
“Two years ago, we started getting brand new guys out of school called crewmasters,” said Staff Sgt. Christian Villalobos, a crewmaster formerly with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, now with “The Blue Angels” or Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron. “Before, there was only a crew chief and I was the loadmaster; after receiving additional training and learning how to do each other’s jobs, we’re now crewmasters.”
Prior to the military occupational specialty integration, the job of crew chiefs consisted of preparing flight operations, refueling the aircraft, and surveying the aircraft for any damages, mechanical or system errors. They also acted as assistant pilots in case of an emergency.
The loadmasters assumed different responsibilities that varied based on the mission.
“In the back of the aircraft, (loadmasters were) the eyes of the pilot and the other (Marines) in the cockpit,” said Villalobos. “We’ll also observe the aerial delivery of troops, cargo, and inflight refueling.”
The loadmasters’ job also consisted of loading cargo or troops onto the aircraft before the flight, or offloading when they land.
The crewmaster’s job integrates both sets of responsibilities: loading and unloading the plane, surveying its structural integrity for flights, supervising in-flight refueling or aerial delivery and still acting as an emergency co-pilot.
The crewmaster is a vital part of the squadron’s operations since a flight would not occur if crewmasters were not present, according to Villalobos.
“For the (KC-130Js) to be part of any exercise or mission, they’re going to need us,” said Villalobos. “In order for the aircraft to take off, they’re going to need the crewmaster to check the plane, load it, and help operate it. Without us, they won’t be able to launch the plane.”
The integration of the job fields allows one enlisted Marine to do the work of two, lessening the manpower needed on a flight and increasing operational ability.
The combined workload of two specialties is significant, according to Pfc. Anthony D. Black, a crewmaster with the squadron.
“We show up early, get the plane ready, get the cargo situated, and plan out the logistics,” said Black. “You’re expected to do the operational side and the loading by yourself. For new guys, it’s a tough and steep learning curve, but it eventually gets easier.”
The crewmasters work together with the pilots during the flight to assure operations and training run smoothly.
“Pilots handle communications, check for weather patterns and steer the aircraft, while the crewmasters keep a lookout for everything else,” said Villalobos. “We’re a team helping each other out to achieve the mission.”
The heavy workload of the job is offset by the chance to travel and participate in unique opportunities including the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Guadalcanal.
“I got to meet leaders from around the world and ambassadors whose countries were part of World War II,” said Black. “The (KC-130Js) were also recognized by the commandant for bringing the band. My job is tough, but it is very rewarding.”