Deployed Soldiers, Airmen work together to keep troops downrange supplied

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Veronica McMahon
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Military members on the front lines of Operation Enduring Freedom usually find themselves living in harsh and barebones conditions at Forward Operating Bases throughout Afghanistan. In remote, mountainous territory and with enemy fighters lurking in the shadows, getting vital supplies -- food, water, and fuel, just to name a few -- by ground is difficult at best, dangerous always, and completely impossible in some cases.

The way to reach these forces and sustain them through the cold of winter and the fighting of summer is by airdropping pallets of supplies built by Army riggers and flown and dropped by Air Force aircrews.

Approximately one-third of such airdrop missions start at this deployed air base in Southwest Asia, where the U.S. Army 824th Quartermaster Company, Detachment 10, Airborne Riggers prepare pallets of requested supplies - building them from the ground up. The work frequently takes the riggers more than 14 hours a day, and it continues seven days a week.

On average, the detachment Soldiers rig 80 bundles per day, translating to about 100,000 pounds worth of supplies, which Airmen then fly and drop from C-17 Globemaster IIIs throughout the area of responsibility.

According to Army Sgt. First Class Brian Steverson, the detachment first sergeant and NCO in charge, the team of riggers hit the ground running -- immediately rigging critical supplies to continue providing air delivery support to both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn in Iraq. The riggers use low-cost aerial delivery systems to provide "supply from the sky." This stand-alone airdrop system consists of parachutes, platforms and other air items configured for both low-velocity and high-velocity air delivery.

"Airdrop is the perfect tactic to support the ground commander's (counter-insurgency) operations," said Maj. Tyler Kern, the Air Mobility Command tactics chief. "It allows ground commanders the freedom to operate, in and from, more remote areas away from main supply routes where ground convoys cannot move freely enough to sustain them, and permits more persistence in these outlying areas."

The major explained that the positive effects of airdrop operations can be felt by local communities in Afghanistan as well as by supported coalition ground forces.

"Airdrop actually has a smaller 'footprint' for areas like small villages, where large convoys would normally pass, reducing the psychological impact of military operations on friendly local nationals in the area. Reducing the number of convoys also reduces the threat to ground forces from IED attacks, in turn increasing freedom of movement," Major Kern said. "This freedom of movement allows the ground units to disrupt the insurgents' ability to resupply and coordinate resistance further away from main logistical hubs with the confidence that they will have their logistical needs satisfied when and where required."

Sergeant Steverson said the supplies air-delivered to remote locations in Afghanistan range from water and meals ready-to-eat, fuel, ammunition and construction supplies. The team has even recently dropped enough equipment to build a whole Foward Operating Base -- to include lumber, sand bags, tools, wire and 'HESCO Barriers,' a type of barrier that can be used to build the outer walls of a FOB.

The riggers work in an assembly line fashion and rig about 10 pallet bundles at a time. They prepare the airdrop pallets with wood and 'honeycomb,' a shock-absorbing substance placed at the bottom of the pallets to avoid the supplies breaking when they hit the ground. Then they stack the supplies, bundle them, and tie everything down carefully with particular knots, ready to rig the parachute.

Along the way, there are four inspections to ensure everything is done correctly and safely. The final such inspection occurs after loading the pallets into the belly of a C-17 mobility aircraft.

While some work inside building the pallets, other Soldiers work outside continuously preparing bundles of pallets.

"Our job here in the yard is to ensure accountability of everything we have just gotten and the cargos," said Army Staff Sgt. Sisamone Sirivong, Det. 10 yard NCO. "We all work together, everyone knows what they have to do and where they have to be. We multitask and prioritize. I love my job and I enjoy doing this because it is a real world mission and we are actually making a difference by dropping stuff the troops actually need."

Soldiers then load everything into trucks and get it from the yard to the airfield. Then the Air Force air transportation specialists and loadmasters load them on the planes for takeoff. Finally, joint air load inspector-qualified Soldiers and Airmen gather together prior to takeoff to conduct the final inspection of the load together.

"Every day we send at least one (inspector) out here to do the final inspection," said Staff Sgt. Brian Canaday, an 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "One team, one fight. The Army guys are the ones who rig the pallets up and we are the ones who drop them."

Once the aircraft is in the air, the crew may conduct several drop missions in the AOR before returning here.

"In the plane there are rollers to drop the pallets," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Marion Pettus, the detachment commander and airdrop technician. "The aircraft goes to a 15-degree pitch, gravity takes effect and they all pile out. In the right place they can do a 500 foot-high drop, but usually they drop from 1,000 to 4,000 feet high."

In less than a minute's time airborne, a whole day's work falls from the aircraft to the ground.

The pallets usually land within a few hundred feet from the FOBs or the 'troops on the move,' Chief Pettus said. The waiting servicemembers then secure and retrieve the supplies they needed very quickly.

"The teamwork between Army Riggers, (U.S. Air Terminal Operations Center) and aircrews is allowing a historic level of aerial resupply to happen every day," Major Kern said. "Never have so many Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines received their food, water, ammunition, fuel, medical supplies and construction materials via parachute. Their efforts every day allow the war fighter to take the fight to the enemy."

(U.S. Army 1st Lt. Natalia Palumbo, of the 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, contributed to this story.)