By Sgt. Mark CloutierJune 17, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - What Army job doesn't have its own unique set of challenges, paces, dangers and faces? They all do. Some, however, carry with them the inherent requirement to, "get it right the first time," so that everyone involved remains alive to do it again.
The Army sling load inspector is one of those jobs; should an in-flight problem arise with one of these loads - the buck stops here. These certified inspectors are the Army's subject matter experts for the security of its sling load transfers.
On May 10, the 593rd Sustainment Brigade graduated 32 soldiers who attended the Sling Load Inspector's Certification Course.
Anything attached to a lead line and swivel and being towed through the air beneath a helicopter is a sling load. The Sling Load Office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster School, Fort Lee, Va., sent one of their mobile training teams here to teach the five-day course.
The team, consisting of two soldiers and three civilian instructors, train E-4's and above to be certified inspectors of sling load operations. During the course, students are trained to properly rig and inspect all loads waiting to be transported by helicopter.
"Having sling load inspectors is an essential asset for a sustainment brigade," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marcus Osborne, senior airborne technician assigned to the 593rd Sust. Bde. "This way, they can conduct sling load operations themselves without having to wait for the assistance of riggers."
Osborne, a rigger since joining the Army 15 years ago, has run five sling load classes on JBLM since 2010, producing more than 200 graduates.
"The course is incredibly demanding," said Staff Sgt. Steven Fief, senior instructor of the mobile training team. "But ultimately, whoever graduates walks away from the experience with knowledge that will help make them a tremendous asset to their parent command."
Students are expected to understand and implement the sling-load math and physics in only four days. Those who acquire this knowledge take part in a hands-on culmination exercise, which incorporates everything from rigging and inspecting to achieving the textbook hook-up with their respective loads.
For some students, the week felt much longer because of the stress they endured with each thought of Friday's hands-on finale.
"I just want it to be over!" shouted one soldier as a group of students casually spoke about their stress. Their conversation seemed to hover around the idea of the 11-and-a-half ton Chinnook artfully looming just a few feet over their heads as they attempt a successful hook-up with a Humvee.
The Chinook made its appearance, early Friday morning. It showed up courtesy of the 1st Battalion, 214th General Support Aviation Brigade, a reserve unit here, which also provided flight crew and classroom for the course.
Spc.Travis Kamerlang is a medium helicopter repairman assigned to the 1-214th GSAB. For the exercise, he explained his role and that of the Chinook: Once airborne, the pilots will get the Chinook to where the two students and instructor are prepared and waiting to hook-up their load. At that point, Kamerlang, who is already down in the hole (observation point in the center of the aircraft), will take verbal command of the aircraft, as the pilot can no longer see what's happening beneath him. As Kamerlang makes visual contact with the load, he begins directing the pilot toward it by calling out the closing, horizontal distance: 75, 50, 20, 10 ... 3, 2, 1 - "hold your forward." Next, he brings [the pilot] down to about 15 feet and instructs him to hold, while they [students on the ground] hook up.
Once the ground crew has the slings hooked and the crew chief has visually inspected the load to see that it's tight, he clears the pilot for flight.
"As the event gets going, each student waits their turn, to rig, inspect and hook up two different loads," Fief said. "One is the Humvee, a four-wheeled vehicle, which has two points to hookup. The other is a large water or fuel container - a single-point hook up.
"This will test the participants individually - and it shows us how much of the knowledge they've been able to assimilate. For this, they can't afford not to know it cold - and we're not about to let somebody squeak by marginally."
Students stood with their partner and instructor with their prepared, inspected sling load, as the behemoth helicopter made its descending approach for their exact position. The moment of truth had arrived.
Hovering just feet above the heads of two students and instructor, the massive Chinook began to bear down - 50 mph winds pushed and pounded at the students, who firmly hold their ground. The giant, intimidating propellers created a deafening, percussive sound.
The students, armed with personal courage and an understanding of their new skill set, stand strong beneath the hovering aircraft and execute their hook-ups.
Then just like that - it was over. Of the 32 students who had made it from Monday's original class of 49, all made it through the finale.