AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar - Imagine being told to push a bundle of supplies, including five dozen fresh eggs out of a plane from 10,000 feet in the sky. And, the service members on the ground are expecting those eggs to arrive intact on the landing zone.
This is just one example of the kind of capabilities provided to commanders in deployed areas by the 824th Quartermaster Company (Detachment 1) "Riggers," 524th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 17th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater). The 824th QM is manned with more than 20 Army Reserve Soldiers from the 421st Quartermaster Company. out of Ft. Valley, Georgia.
While the need for moving troops via a D-Day-like airborne assault is a rarity, these riggers stay engaged preparing supplies and equipment for airdrops. "If it can fit inside of an airplane," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Moss, detachment noncommissioned officer in charge, his riggers can figure out how to drop it safely.
"We can get all sorts of unique requests that they want to facilitate, and our job is to figure it out," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph Kiernan, detachment commander. "It didn't matter who came calling. We figured it out and got it to them.
"At the end of the day, we get the tasking and order saying we need this unique group of items airdropped. That's what we do."
Other factors that go into selecting the parachute include the height of the drop, terrain, enemy activity and the aircraft's approach.
"It's a lot of work, a lot of technical understanding of weight and the equipment, and understanding what parachute and what aircraft is dropping the equipment," said Moss, who lives in Epping, New Hampshire.
Relying on decades of research and some techniques that have been perfected by riggers during the Vietnam War and previous conflicts, riggers have a library of technical manuals available to use as references. This is in addition to the team's decades of combined experience.
If the 824th QM faces a problem that doesn't have a doctrinal answer, the non-doctrinal solution they devise to solve it may influence future riggers.
"One of the great things about being forward deployed is deploying solutions that sometimes turn into doctrine years later," said Kiernan, who hails from Macon, Georgia.
Once the equipment is prepared, it undergoes three inspections: one inspection immediately after it's rigged, another before it's loaded onto a plane, and a last one after it's on the plane.
"As far as the rigging goes, when we're done we're confident there won't be a problem going out of the aircraft," said Moss. "Because of the inspection process, the chances of a malfunction are significantly downgraded."
The 824 QM's technical expertise allows commanders to know their needed supplies can be delivered. This is especially important when ground delivery options either aren't available or the mission requires more immediate support.
"If we have the commander's trust that we're going to be on time and on target, it's invaluable," said Kiernan. "If they're calling for parachute riggers, we're the last lifeline.
"Most of our guys understand that inherently. I have to remind them to take rest breaks and get out on time. They don't have any quit in them."
Rigging bundles is grueling, demanding work. Soldiers set up an assembly line that begins with placing energy dissipating material on the ground. EDM is a cardboard honeycomb that absorbs the shock of impact. They then use a forklift to put the container delivery systems on top of the EDM before tying the EDM and CDS together. Lastly, the Soldiers correctly attach the parachute.
Tying more than 20 knots per CDS that are strong enough to secure the bundle while dropped from an aircraft is a full body workout, with Soldiers grunting and straining to ensure each knot is tight.
"You can get fatigued, and it's a lot of wear and tear on your hands," said Sgt. Maurice Banks, parachute rigger from Columbus, Georgia. "It rips into your skin. At first, it's kind of painful. But, your hands will get used to it by developing calluses."
While the work is difficult, Banks, whose forearms glisten with sweat after tying more than 200 knots in a sweltering warehouse, knows his efforts matter.
"Our guys, they understand who it is they're supporting," said Kiernan. "If you fail in your jobs, it's not just, 'I had a bad day,' but 'I may have cost someone his life,' because we screwed up."
"That's a motivator; knowing someone else is depending on our work," said Banks. "Our long days are for a reason."