Ammo Rodeo on target with creative, mission-focused training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alice Ripberger
  • Wisconsin National Guard

VOLK FIELD, Wis. – About 50 Air National Guard and Reserve munitions specialists from across the nation saddled up at the Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center in July to see which team could best assemble an Air Force bomb during the annual Ammo Rodeo competition.

Volk Field’s two-week Ammo Rodeo trains Air Force personnel to assemble bomb components into a mission-specific armament.

During the first week, bombs were built in a classroom setting with hands-on training.

“In the second week, three teams rotated each day. One crew built bombs based on an [fragmentary] order, the second crew transported components and restored packed assets, and the third crew tore down built assets,” said Senior Master Sgt. Charles Weyers, Volk Field’s munitions flight chief. “The tempo was fast-paced and as realistic as possible.”

Senior Airman Keely Ford, a munitions specialist with the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 130th Airlift Wing, attended the Ammo Rodeo for the first time after serving in the Army.

“It was a lot of fun and different from the Army’s annual training,” Ford said. “It has been one of my favorite parts of my military career. I learned a lot.”

Senior Airman Yamela Cao, a munitions specialist with the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Fighter Wing, agreed.

“It’s so worth it to come here,” Cao said. “I don’t get this kind of training at my home unit.”

The Ammo Rodeo has had a positive impact on many Airmen who have participated in the competition.

“I hear so many say that this reinvigorated their career and motivated them to continue their career with the Guard,” said Weyers. “Some said that they were going to get out [of the military] and this event changed their minds.”

Ford echoed that feedback that multiple supervisors have consistently received over different iterations of the event.

“It makes me want to stay in and serve,” Ford said.

Master Sgt. Blake Torosian, a functional munitions specialist, traveled from Washington, D.C., to observe the event for the National Guard Bureau and learn what makes it such a hit with those who volunteered to attend. 

“I think that a lot of the event’s success stems from the fact that it is voluntary,” Torosian said.  “You can see the difference in the attitudes of participants. They will gladly work for 12 hours a day and are always willing to get their hands dirty.”

Those volunteer participants include 30 Air Force Reserve members, among the first Air Reservists to attend this event.

“We do not currently have anything like this program,” said Senior Master Sgt. David Hamilton, a production section chief in the Air Force Reserves. “I just sent in a report to my supervisors on the benefits of continued participation in this National Guard event.”

Weyers has been part of the Ammo Rodeo since its inception and is proud of how the event grew from an idea scribbled on a napkin to something that goes beyond the National Guard.

“Our napkin idea developed into a program that people have described as the best training they have ever received,” Weyers said. “But this goes beyond the individual experiences and ties directly into national strategic goals.”  

Part of the Department of Defense’s 2018 National Military Strategy focuses on developing the creativity and talent of service members.

“One way we develop talent is we allow room for failure so that participants can experiment, try new roles, and approach their craft with curiosity,” Weyers said. “This is invaluable for people who have not touched a bomb since their initial training or are only specialized in one part of the process.”

Weyers said the program aims to ensure that even the most junior Airmen have the confidence and capability to make decisions if necessary. 

“With the rise of near-peer threats, our Airmen must have the ability to operate without someone telling them what to do,” Weyers said. “Part of that means being proficient in every step of the process, not just specializing in a specific area.”