"Muleskinners" take to the air for resupply
September 16, 2009
By 1BCT 1CD PAO
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Now that U.S. forces have moved out of Iraqi cities to the surrounding rural areas, the nature of logistical resupply for far-flung outposts has under gone changes.
Soldiers from Company A, 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division continually train to execute aerial resupply missions to safely and efficiently replenish supplies to joint security stations in the northern Baghdad area.
"Aerial resupply missions are a safer way of getting supplies from JSS to JSS," said Vineland, N.J., native Spc. Juan Lopez, a truck driver assigned to Co. A. "This way we can avoid risking anything happening on roads when we send supplies out on convoys."
Attacks on U.S. forces have significantly diminished in the recent months, but the threat of improvised explosive devices still exists. Army leaders are taking steps to remove Soldiers from the roads in an attempt to reduce the possibility of casualties and to prevent disrupting civilian traffic.
"We don't have to worry about Soldiers being on the roads and it puts fewer Soldiers' lives at risk," explained Lopez. "I am really glad that we can do this."
The men and women that once loaded giant resupply trucks now use their time to conduct aerial sling load operations; using helicopters to sustain American troops. The technique is growing in popularity because it is a simple and safe means of distributing goods.
Simple in theory, the sling load process uses special equipment and techniques that Soldiers must master to ensure the job is executed perfectly. "Muleskinner" troops from the 115th BSB recently completed a week-long training course to learn correct sling load procedures, with safety taking a front-row seat.
In a sling load mission, a four-man team uses a series of straps and chains to secure large metal shipping containers to the bottom of an Army cargo helicopter. Once the team ensures the shipment is tightly secured to the helicopter, the area is cleared and the pilot is signaled to lift the container off the ground. The team then inspects the cargo as it dangles beneath the helicopter. It must be centered and balanced so that the helicopter doesn't lose control of the load. Once all checks are performed the pilot is cleared to transport the container to its destination.
When the supplies reach the JSS, the pilot slowly lowers the container onto the helipad and a second aerial delivery team climbs aboard the container and frees it from the aircraft.
Although the aerial delivery missions are safer because they take the truck drivers off of the streets, it is also important that the four-man teams protect themselves from possible dangers during the sling load operations. As a precaution crew members are required to wear the proper protective equipment such as a helmet, ear and eye protection, safety vests and gloves.
"You won't see any of our Soldiers out there without it," promised Birmingham, Ala., native Sgt. Jeffery Willis, a safety observer for the aerial resupply missions. "We care about the safety of all Soldiers."
Although aerial resupply isn't a new concept, it has proven valuable in safely distributing needed supplies safely and effectively to the places they are needed most.
"Our shipments usually consist of ice, food, or other needed necessities that are important," said Lopez. "I enjoy knowing that this is something I can do to help supply my fellow Soldiers."