As a loadmaster with the 37th Airlift Squadron, Senior Airman Nicholas Cunningham had the rare opportunity to experience cultures around the world within just two years of being in the Air Force — an
opportunity many wouldn’t be able to experience in a lifetime.
Q: What is your overall job as a loadmaster?
A: Generally speaking, as a loadmaster, we are in charge of anything and everything in the back of a cargo
aircraft, whether it is patients, passengers, supplies or vehicles. We inspect the cargo pallets before and after a flight. Another big responsibility is air delivery, basically anything you can fit in a plane, we can deliver it.
Q: What are your day-to-day operations at Ramstein Air Base?
A: Everything varies, unlike when I was stationed somewhere else where their main focus was training. Here, we are constantly conducting operational missions. One day I could be required to be in Poland and the next day it could be Afghanistan. There is never a dull moment.
Q: Do you feel like the lack of training puts you at a disadvantage here?
A: No, actually I feel like I am at a huge advantage because I get to actually see first-hand the end result of what I do and the importance of it. For example, when the earthquake hit Turkey a few years ago, the United States sent blankets and food and I was able to deliver it. When we arrived, a Turkish guy came in with a forklift to receive the supplies, and when he finished he got out and gave me a hug. If I was somewhere else, I might have loaded a plane that would eventually get there, but that’s a little different from actually being there. Nothing can compare to the experience here. I see the full spectrum of my job.
Q: What would you say to a new loadmaster who hasn’t had the opportunity to fully experience the impact of their work?
A: Just wait and see. Right now, you are training for what you will be able to experience later. Take your time, learn your job and once your time comes, you won’t regret it.
Q: Did you originally want to be a loadmaster?
A: Before joining the Air Force I knew I wanted to fly, so I did my research on anything related to flying. I would have taken any flying position but I felt being a loadmaster was the right job for me because I get to actually go to the places and see the impact of the work I am doing.
Q: Flying as much as you do, where all have you been?
A: In approximately two years as a loadmaster, I have been to around 34 countries, and that’s pretty standard in my career field. Basically, our area of responsibility is Europe, all of Africa and parts of western Asia, and I have buddies who have traveled a lot more than I have.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
A: The most challenging part of being a loadmaster, and I think everyone has felt this way at least once, is we are expected from Day One to be able to operate on an individual basis without supervision in just about any environment. You arrive to your first base after a year of schooling and you get a few training flights in, but once you complete maybe three or four flights, you are able to be put on a jet alone. For example, if you were sent to Bulgaria where you deal with people who don’t speak English, things could get complicated.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Every time I have the opportunity to speak with someone who is not in my career field (but) who has shown interest to be, whether already in the Air Force or not, I always tell them to go for it whenever they get the chance. Nothing can compare to the experience one can receive as a loadmaster. Depending on the plane you are assigned, you can fly around the entire world in just one trip. It’s just so amazing.