The hard work of war grinds on relentlessly, behind the lines as well as in the theater of conflict. At Hill, around the clock, airmen and civilian workers are powering America's military machine.
Reporters had a chance to glimpse some of the work in progress Friday, when Hill officials conducted a tour of a missile-inspection facility, past munitions storage igloos, to a pallet-loading work station and then onto a runway where a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane was being loaded."WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS - with our hearts and with our hands," read a banner stretched across the top of Hill's west gate. And that was the theme of the tour, the physical labor and brainpower that are required to keep the troops fighting.
As important as checking and shipping munitions is, it is overshadowed by Hill's job as a depot agent for ordnance sent worldwide. Most of that won't pass through Hill, but the base manages $11 billion in materiel and sees that it goes from the correct storage area - usually an Army base - to the unit that needs it.
Sometimes, munitions can be on the ground in the Middle East 72 hours from the time a request is relayed to Hill. Much greater tonnage goes by huge ships, arriving two months later. This inventory includes bombs, missiles, grenades, aircraft fuel tanks, ammunition and "smart bomb" guidance kits.
Some ships can carry 30,000 tons of munitions apiece.
Weapons needed quickly are apt to be sent by cargo planes. Other munitions are planned to arrive when particular missions are to take place, often weeks after they leave the depots."At Hill Air Force Base we only have limited storage for conventional munitions," said Romona J. Allison, deputy chief of the Armament Division at Hill. "The Army stores most of our conventional munitions assets."
For example, flatbed trucks loaded with bombs arrive frequently from Tooele Army Depot.
Lt. Col. Earl B. Christy Jr. of the Armament Safety and Operations Unit said Hill communicates with the Joint Chiefs of Staff about munitions needs worldwide. Hill built a "bridge" of support that supplied Operation Desert Storm, working with many bases to move the weapons.
"We are responsible for (coordinating) all munitions, except for air-to-air missiles," Christy said. Hill directs shipments, then tracks and places them overseas.
"We've been going on a 24-hour, around-the-clock, operation through most of January. We've backed off that a little bit, and we might be gearing up again," said Maj. Kenneth Knapp of the Munitions Support Unit.
Some days, no aircraft needs to be loaded; on others, as many as 20 are filled.
During January, workers loading pallets shivered outside in wind chill temperatures of minus 30 degrees and had to take breaks to warm up in heated tents.
Bombs of all sizes are shipped through Hill, from 500-pounders through 15,000-pound giant bombs called BLU-82s - better known as "blooies." Some weapons, such as 750-pound bombs, are loaded eight to a pallet, with about 48 pallets shipped per plane load.
For some bombs, tail fins are packed on top of the bombs on pallets. Fuses are kept separate from the bombs until they are armed on the flight line overseas.
The guidance system on smart bombs, which use computerized systems to lock onto targets, can reach a cost of $45,000. But the usual range is $6,000 to $8,000.
The "iron bomb" itself is far less costly without the special guidance system - a Mark 82 500-pound bomb goes for a mere $500.
The C-141 and the C-5 Galaxy are the main transport planes flying from Hill. Throughout the tour, F-16 Flying Falcons roared off the runway for training missions. Two squadrons of Hill's F-16s flew to the Middle East in August and have been engaged in daily bombing missions since the war started.
Hill itself is guarded by armed airmen, but within the base separate areas also are fenced off, with triple strands of barbed wire at the top of the fence. One of these had a sign at the gate, "WARNING Explosive Storage Area - Unauthorized Personnel KEEP OUT."
After passing ammunition bunkers in this area, the reporters were escorted into Building 2026, where AGM-65 Maverick Missiles were checked out by technicians before being sent overseas. Mavericks can be fired 12 miles from the target, and they can use either television, laser or infrared vision to track tanks.
Inside the building, tracks lined the ceilings of corridors and work bays so the 93-inch missile can be moved along chains that reached down from the tracks.
Jess Perez, lead technician for Maverick weapons, showed off the missile's guidance system. The bubblelike nosecone of one of the missiles was set up on a rack. A technician used its TV camera to lock on to a target held across the big room.
The target was a drawing of a tank on what looked like a ping-pong paddle. When the operator had the target in the center of the sights, as shown on a TV screen, he ordered the guidance system to lock on to it. The picture shuddered momentarily.
After that, even though nobody was guiding the TV camera, it followed the target wherever it moved. When the man moved the paddle around quickly, the TV camera swiveled after it, keeping the target locked in the center of the screen. This system is connected to the missile's guidance program.
When the Maverick is still attached to the aircraft, the pilot locks onto a target. He launches the missile, and it keeps the target exactly centered as it homes in on it. Regardless of a tank's attempts to outmaneuver it, the Maverick will follow and destroy it.
"Those Maverick missiles you just looked at cost about $60,000 apiece," Allison said.
Reporters then toured a dock facility, where bombs that arrived from a base in Oklahoma were loaded onto flatbed trucks.
At a "palletizing" station, crews were strapping ammo cans and crates to pallets for transportation to the Middle East. They worked swiftly, pulling on lines, deciding where straps were needed, using hand-crank devices that tightened the lines. The pallets were covered with netting material.
Last stop was a distant view of the loading of a C-141. A flatbed truck backed up to the rear of the Starlifter, and loaders shoved mountains of munitions into the plane.