Airdrop weathers storm
February 3, 2011
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- The 101st Sustainment Brigade and the U.S. Air Force did their best postman impression by battling the elements and delivering 120 bundles, including 101 bundles of JP8 fuel, to a fuel-starved Task Force Currahee at Forward Operating Base Waza Kwhah, AFghanistan.
A planned, record setting Container Delivery System aerial drop to the remote FOB in eastern Afghanistan was altered, and then threatened for cancellation when a sudden snowfall in the area emerged, hindering the pilots' ability to see the landing zone.
The CDS drop originally consisted of the bundles being dropped simultaneously from three C-17 planes. Due to a last-minute change in plans and the weather, however, the drops were conducted over two days.
Although there were no records set, the mission's importance was no less significant, said Lt. Col. David J. Preston, commander of the 801st Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
"The takeaway from this is that these guys rely on this fuel for everything," he said. "This is their lifeblood, and whatever it takes to get it to them, we're going to be persistent and get it to them."
Preston said JP8 fuel is used to power the FOB's generators and is necessary for heat, communication and force protection for the Soldiers. There is no way to deliver the fuel to the FOB by ground, so aerial delivery is the only method of transportation that is available, he said.
Along with the other 19 bundles containing food and drinkable water, the FOB will have supplies for at least 35 days, Preston said.
"Twice we've come dangerously close to running out of fuel here because of the weather," he said. "They went to where they could only run certain generators to keep the force protection going, the heaters might not be running. We want to expand the capacity so that should the weather drop, we'll have enough to sustain that capacity."
The airplane flew in under the snow clouds at about 1,500 feet from the ground during the first CDS drop, allowing the Soldiers and members of the Afghan Border Police a fairly close view of the bundles as they descended from the sky.
Once the bundles hit the ground, the Soldiers quickly headed to the landing zone to unrig and load the bundles onto their vehicles and return to base.
Air Force Air Mobility Liaison Officer Lt. Col. Stacy Maxey praised the Sustainment Brigade for the well bundled supplies that arrived to the FOB with little damage, as well as the collaborative efforts highlighting Army combat logistics and Air power.
"The survivability of these bundles were amazing. They were well-rigged, well-loaded, and well-configured for the air drop," he said. "Murphy's (law) always on duty and sometimes weather can be your worst enemy in these situations."
Maxey said the drop validates the combat support given to the warfighter on the ground.
"What this means is that we can give supplies any time and any place, regardless of the environmental or combat situation," Maxey said.
Spc. Robert Smallman, a parachute rigger with the 101st Sustainment Brigade, is assigned to the 4th BCT, where he advises his company on the proper rigging procedures. He was at the drop site to analyze how well the drop itself and assist in determining what malfunction happened in terms of rigging the bundles.
"Most of the chutes opened well. I'd say about a good 85 percent were successful, and that's a pretty good ratio," Smallman said.
Smallman said he helps train the BSB riggers, showing them what they've done correctly or not, and helping them determine what size pallets to use for any specific aerial drops.
Smallman said there are times when aerial drop missions have been cut due to weather, but that was not the case for this particular mission.
"Oh no, this is fuel. This is sort of a necessity," he said.