By Sgt. Quentin JohnsonOctober 18, 2013
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - In a late October evening, a small sling load crew braces themselves atop a cargo cage while an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter hovers above them as they begin to connect the load.
The description above describes a scene from a sling load operation conducted at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Oct. 11, by members of Company A., 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
More than 20 Soldiers make up A. Co.'s supply platoon which is divided into three, 6-8 man teams labeled "sling teams". One of these teams is now tasked with supporting the American Consulate missions in Herat, said Sgt. 1st Class Alvin Porch, Co. A's supply platoon sergeant.
Supply platoon provides direct support for Black Jack, but supports other units through warehouse activities, ammunition supply point operations and base distribution; however their primary mission is sling load operations, said Porch.
"Our missions vary, but the majority involves sling load operations. We average around 25 loads a month at various times and locations," added Porch, who hails from Columbus, Ga.
Sling teams schedules are rotated due to time constraints and last-minute operational needs, ensuring all Soldiers are given proper downtime, he said. Downtime affords sling teams rest so they are always prepared for strenuous sling operations during any given circumstance.
"Sling loading may look easy, but it is very stressful," said Porch. "Hours of operation vary; last-minute tasks and other setbacks all have an effect on operation."
Porch defines setbacks as multiple variables hindering or possibly stopping operations to include: misplaced or incomplete paperwork (load inspection or hazardous material), weather, safety hazards (i.e. debris on landing zone, electrical shock, falls, moving parts), aircraft malfunctions, or improper sling harness configuration.
Unaffected by any setback, Porch said his teams are the best at what they do, all being fully trained and always prepared.
"They (supply platoon) are the best platoon in theater, keeping an average sling success rate around 96 percent," said Porch. "They are competent, quick to react, great at being flexible with last-minute tasks and well trained."
All Soldiers in the platoon are sling load qualified, having been through various training environments, with four of the Soldiers additionally certified to inspect and sign off on cargo loads, which vary from 400 - 700 pounds in mass, added Porch.
"Each Soldier is versatile enough to handle any position regardless if that position be hook-up man, grounding the helicopters or acting as safeties," exclaimed Porch.
Team success also comes from team cohesion, said Sgt. Jason Starkweather, an ammunitions specialist, team leader and certified sling load inspector with Co. A.
"We are a strong platoon, our communication is great and we help each other get through missions," said Starkweather from Trinity, N.C. "We maintain 100 percent accountability of our people and equipment, also mentoring a Soldier who may feel uncomfortable with their current ability during an operation."
Operations don't stop for this group as they were tasked two hours before the sling operation. The last-minute distribution mission was completed less than an hour after sling operations ended, proving once again, his team can handle anything, said Porch.