By Matt SmithMarch 26, 2009
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - As the 38th Long Range Surveillance Company continues to build from the ground up, the unit will send 52 of its Soldiers March 13 to Fort Benning for the Reconnaissance, Surveillance Leader Course - the nuts and bolts of a LRS unit.
But what makes this group of RSLC students different than others in the past is that it will be the largest RSLC class D Company, 4th Ranger Training Battalion, has ever trained. The Soldiers will also be jumping from a C-130 aircraft into Fort Benning after traveling across country from Fort Lewis, a first for D Co.
"They've never received a company coming in via an in-flight rig and then an airborne operation onto Fryer Drop Zone at Fort Benning, Ga.," said 38th company commander, Capt. Zach Corke.
Organizing an in-flight rigging and airborne operation into another installation is not an easy task; every detail must be planned and everybody must be on the same page. That job fell to the 38th's Sgt. 1st Class Sam Gomez.
"The one thing I will say was the most difficult on this was getting the aircraft," Gomez said. "It was pretty much a nail biter towards the end because I was like, 'I need an aircraft now.' And the 146th Air Wing came through for us. I think I called every single National Guard air wing all the way through the Reserves. All the active duty ones were booked."
Equally difficult, and potentially dangerous, is the actual rigging of parachutes during the five-hour, cross-country flight.
Gomez said space, time and a finite number of chutes are all obstacles that must be overcome during an in-flight rigging.
"With less space, you're going to find a lot more rigging deficiencies," Gomez said. "You'll run into a lot more of them and you'll be running out of time. So you've got to plan it out accordingly. You've got to be pushing them (the Soldiers) and moving them the whole way."
Company 1st Sgt. John Wear emphasized how cramped it can get while trying to don a parachute on a C-130.
"The analogy I used with my wife this morning was 'imagine trying to put on a parachute as close as I sleep to you at night,'" he said. "That's how close you are when you're trying to put on a parachute with your buddies right next to you. So the chances of something occurring are greater than they are when you're on the ground."
In addition to setting up transportation to and from Fort Benning, Gomez said they also had to arrange for rigger support and a pick up by the RTB once on the ground.
"One of the nice things about this entire training event is that not only does it stress our systems, but it also stresses the RSLC cadre ... so it's good for them, too. All around, it's just kind of testing the systems," Corke said.
Just getting approved to send so many Soldiers to RSLC at one time proved to be an obstacle Corke's company had to negotiate.
"We tried to go through the Army system of blocking off a course, and it just didn't work out that way," Corke said. "Colonel (Robert) Whalen really went to bat for us with the brigade commander at the RTB due to their past friendship. So a lot of the relationships that have carried through, the careers of certain people have helped to allow this training opportunity to take place. And RTB as a whole ... bent over backwards to help us out."
The company will also jump onto Rogers Drop Zone near Leschi Town April 18 on the return trip to Fort Lewis.
Matt Smith is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.