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Weapons safety NCO ensures welfare of deployed personnel

  • Published
  • By Capt. Anna-Marie Wyant
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Staff Sgt. Tomas Gonzalez closely inspects a GBU-54 laser joint directed attack munition in the flightline munitions holding area at Bagram Airfield. He takes some notes, then moves on to the next, and the next, until his inspections are complete.

As the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing weapons safety manager, Gonzalez is responsible for inspecting munitions, assessing the risk of storing explosives in a particular location, helping the wing commander determine the acceptable level of risk and more. 

With oversight of 65 explosive site plans and 38 explosive licenses in a combat zone, Gonzalez has his work cut out for him. While the job can be complicated, at the end of the day, he said it’s all about safety. 

“We try to keep people a safe distance away from a set amount of explosives,” Gonzalez said. “My calculations dictate what amount of explosives can be somewhere to cause the least amount of damage possible in case a mishap occurred. It’s about saving lives, equipment and aircraft.”

To determine the amount of explosives that can be stored in an area, Gonzalez inputs the details into a program and refers to regulations about how far the explosives must be from buildings, people, etc. He then advises leadership about whether an area or the amount of munitions being stored is safe—or not. As the senior airfield authority, the 455th AEW wing commander bases his explosives-related decisions on Gonzalez’s recommendations and risk assessment.   

“I’m not here to say no--I’m here to enforce standards and safety requirements,” Gonzalez said. “Advising commanders can be intimidating, but that’s part of the job.”

Gonzalez works closely with joint partners, particularly Army and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan personnel, to ensure munitions are properly stored and handled, thus ensuring everyone’s safety.

“This is my first time working with the Army, and they’ve been really supportive,” Gonzalez said. “Having a good relationship with them helps me do my job.”

Working in weapons safety for several months at his home station, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, before deploying helped Gonzalez prepare for the fast-paced operations tempo at Bagram. 

“Things were happening fairly quickly at home, but then I got here and it was even quicker,” Gonzalez said. “Doing the job out here will make me better at doing the job back home. Being here has been a great opportunity to hone my skills and improve my job knowledge.”

While he hasn’t memorized all the regulations, he knows where to look and continues to learn from researching and doing the job hands-on.

“Sergeant Gonzalez is great for my team because he tries to leave everything better than he found it,” said Lt. Col. Anthony White, 455th AEW chief of safety. “He thoroughly researches every issue and doesn't stop at the first answer he finds. After learning new information, he shares it with the office, making all of us better.”

Gonzalez said he gets a lot of job satisfaction knowing he is responsible for ensuring the safety of base personnel and assets. He sees his mission impacts on a daily basis.

“When I site locations to store explosives, then see those explosives being loaded onto aircraft going on combat missions, it’s pretty good job satisfaction for me because I know I played a role in that,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a good feeling.”

The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing is the Air Force’s premier counterterrorism wing in Afghanistan and supports Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support mission. Headquartered at Bagram, the wing has geographically separated units at Kandahar and Jalalabad airfields in Afghanistan and provides decisive airpower throughout the region.