By Spc. Alex SkripnichukAugust 4, 2014
FORT HOOD, Texas - The Soldiers rush to prepare the cargo payload. The waiting helicopter rumbles in the distance as it hovers in the sky, ready to pick up the cargo. With the ropes connected, the area cleared of debris, one Soldier climbs the 5,000 pound generator, with rope in hand. Supported by two comrades to ensure the massive downdraft from the helicopter will not blow the Soldier away. Like a bird of prey the helicopter swoops in ready to hook its load. In a perfect dance between two crews the Soldier snaps the rope onto the helicopter's hook as it hovers, an arm's reach away.
For sergeant's time, Distro Platoon, Forward Support Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade on Fort Hood, conducts sling load operations as a way to improve themselves and their unit in their abilities to provide support in combat operations.
"Soldiers don't get to participate in training of this nature on a regular basis," said Sgt. William J. Richie, a native of Bandara, Texas, serving as a squad leader for Distro Platoon. "Realistic training like this helps Soldiers become more proficient at logistics operations."
Soldiers from Distro platoon prepared for the operations with rehearsals.
They stand in formation with their gear removed, eyes closed and practice hand and arm signals.
"I have them close their eyes to make sure they know their signals and are not watching the Soldiers next to them," said Richie. "It's an integrity check."
The Soldiers use the signals to guide the helicopter over their payload.
With hand signals rehearsed, Soldiers prepare a landing zone. After selecting a suitable spot, a large letter "T" is marked in the ground with strips of white tape.
"We look for flat ground with little debris so the helicopter can land safely if needed," said Richie. "We clear the landing zone of any debris that can be lifted."
Small sticks and rocks can be very hazardous to both the helicopter above and Soldiers on the ground if lifted in the air by the downdraft caused by a hovering aircraft.
With the landing zone prepared, Soldiers move their cargo into position.
A trailer with a diesel generator is being used as the practice cargo. Once in position the generator has to be prepared.
"We have to make sure there is the proper amount of fuel in the generator," said Richie. "When the helicopter lifts the load to high altitude, the fuel will expand and we have to leave room for this."
Once fuel is at proper levels, soldiers cover with tape any reflective surface. A helicopter flying in a tactical situation doesn't need the help of reflectors shining in the sky.
"We secure any loose fittings on the cargo," said Richie. "Unsecured object can break off or damage the generator during transport."
At the last step, the Soldiers attach the ropes that will be used to lift the generator.
With the landing zone and cargo prepared, Soldiers from the 3rd Squadron (Assault), 227th Aviation Regiment, Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, fly in with the guidance of Distro Platoon on the ground and hover directly over the cargo.
"This is an excellent opportunity to get additional training," said Staff Sgt. Joel Moriset, a Tucson, Arizona, native serving as the senior heavy wheeled vehicle operator for the Distro Platoon. "This training provides a new way for us to deliver the water, fuel and other supplies to units underneath our distribution responsibilities in theater operations."
For the Soldiers of Distro Platoon this training helped them gain confidence in their abilities and for those who are interested, a small window to what Air Assault School is all about.
"This training is only the start, it is in preparation of advance level loading operations in August," said 1st. Lt. Priscilla J. Ro, a native of Valencia, California, serving as the acting commander of Forward Support Company. "It will provide our Soldiers the opportunity to conduct joint training with other units and give us the capability to conduct sling load operations in future deployment."