168th Brigade Support Battalion trains for safety, success
October 20, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla. -- The Army emphasizes teamwork. Soldiers work as and train as a team. And,when your life hangs in the balance, you want to know that your team has your back.
Because sling load training is vital to the 168th Brigade Support Battalion's mission to supporting units in combat, unit Soldiers practiced this critical skill recently.
"Day in and day out we are supporting combat artillerymen to accomplish their mission," said Maj. Mark DeSanders, Headquarters Company, 168th BSB. "Often, though we are doing day-to-day logistics and supply missions, we don't get the opportunity to fine-tune and hone our skills as logisticians. So we're out here training with them."
The results of that training will show the next time Soldiers deploy overseas.
"Afghanistan is pretty austere, and what we do is rig sling loads and use the CH-47 helicopters to push those loads to the combat troops. We can supply them better and keep vehicles off the main supply routes," said DeSanders.
Speed is important when a team attaches the lifting legs and chains to a load so it can be lifted, but safety is just as critical. That's why crews train, and train and train.
"Whenever you're touching the snap ring, you look at it to check that it is properly secured," barked Sgt. Rolly Evans to his crew as they rigged a multiple launch rocket system pod for sling load. "This is what gets people hurt or killed, not checking all the links properly. So check each link to protect yourself and your team."
Evans and his team are attached to B Company, 168th BSB. His team included Spc. Antonio Montes de Oca and Pfc. Jacob Williams. His team leader was 1st Sgt. Guillermo Balderaz. The team was timed to find out how fast they can get a load rigged. "We have 15 minutes to rig it and do it properly and once we are done with the time, they will go back and inspect it," said Evans. "Once they get done inspecting it they'll let us know our deficiencies and that gives us a little more time to correct those errors before it is time for the hookup."
Each CH-47 Chinook helicopter can lift a 25,000-pound load from the lift hook on the bottom of the craft. That gives it capability to lift fuel or water blivets, pallets of food or parts, howitzers or even a humvee. But with all that weight suspended beneath the CH-47, the load must be balanced perfectly to avoid disaster striking the aircraft crew or the sling load team.
"Each sling leg we are using today has a 10,000-pound capacity for each leg. Put four of them together and it's 40,000 pounds,"
DeSanders said. "They have to make sure those chain links are exactly the right length or else it won't lift properly. You have to balance the load and that's exactly what they are testing for today is to determine if they are rigged correctly."
"We're taught that when you dismount that you want to get out of the way, because once the helicopter's already hooked up to it and they start putting the tension on it you don't want to be on that particular equipment when it's already being lifted," Evans said.
DeSanders added that training makes all the difference in doing the job right and keeping everyone safe. "There is that inherent possibility of injury and that's why we're out here today honing our skills with the Oklahoma National Guard aviation unit out of Lexington, Oklahoma," he said. "It's a pretty special relationship we have with them as they come out here and support the 214th Fires Brigade. It strengthens our mission to have them come out here and help us."
Evans agreed and said the value to have as many Soldiers trained is essential. "Real-life scenarios like this one happen a lot. We have to do sling load operations, especially overseas and the more people we get to teach this, the better off we will be either meeting mission requirements at a deployed location or training other Soldiers."
As the Chinook lifted away from the staging site with a load of MLRS launch tubes, Evans and his team felt good about their work. "It was successful for my team, and even though we were one man short, it went really well for us." he said, and then added with a big grin on his face, "It was an adrenalin rush as I've only done it twice in my career and this one was great. My guys had a lot of fun."