FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The 593rd Sustainment Brigade broke new ground Friday in performing the first Low Cost, Low Altitude aerial delivery at Fort Lewis.

Flying a C-23 Sherpa cargo airplane 150 feet above Rogers Drop Zone, Soldiers from the 593rd and 1st Special Forces Group performed six load drops, payloads ranging between 100 to 200 pounds, using the LCLA delivery system.

During the one-hour operation, a half-dozen Soldiers assigned to push the loads from the back of the plane were called in turn six minutes before each pass. Once they unstrapped the payload from the floor of the plane, the Soldier sat behind a load and slowly inched the package toward the edge of the ramp with his or her legs. As they flew over the DZ, the Soldiers sent skids off one at a time with a hard push from both feet under the guidance of a nearby instructor.

The newly developed LCLA system is a cheap and effective way to filter supplies to Soldiers on the battlefield and has only been performed in limited overseas operations since 2006.

"It is aimed at the resupply of small combat teams, mostly in Afghanistan," said Warrant Officer 1 Franklin Fowler of the 593rd Sustainment Brigade, "that need food, water and ammunition during longer operations."

The "low cost" of the system refers mainly to the parachute itself. While previous methods of resupply require parachutes costing as much as $3,000 and call for retrieval of the used parachutes for reuse on future missions, the LCLA system chute costs only $100 and can be left in the field or used later by the Soldiers as a cover or poncho.

"It's made with all recyclable materials," said Warrant Officer 1 Orlando Velez of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), who was one of two trainers on hand to assist the brigade. "It's a one-time drop and it's over." Velez said.

The ease of employing the LCLA system is as appealing to Soldiers as its low cost.

"If you're talking about Afghanistan," said Fowler, "you're talking about a mountainous terrain. There are not always roads running to FOBs in the middle of nowhere.

"Once you send your teams out, (they might) get in a firefight and (be forced) to hunker down for a few days or a week until they start running out of (supplies). All it takes is (a radio telephone operator) to give grid coordinates ... and you drop in what they need."

Not only can the LCLA system deliver a payload swiftly to Soldiers on the ground, but it can also drop supplies with extreme accuracy.

"The average accuracy (of a drop) is within 20 to 50 meters from where it is supposed to land," said Warrant Officer 1 Werner Menchu of the 15th Sustainment Brigade, another of the trainers on hand to help with the operation.

"Soldiers on the ground can tell you an exact intersection, and (an LCLA delivery) can actually hit that intersection. (While) traditional aircraft have a (wide) range where the load would land, with this system I've hit within two meters of where they wanted it," said Menchu.

Possibly the most valuable aspect in the addition of LCLA delivery to the 593rd's arsenal is that there is no rigger or jumpmaster support required on an LCLA crew, which is important to a non-airborne unit.

"The significant thing about LCLA is that it's not rigger- or jumpmaster-specific," said Fowler. "It is Soldier-specific. Any Soldier who goes through the training can put (a load) out of the aircraft. They can rig it, inspect it, put it in the bird and the drop it (without needing) to call a rigger to inspect the load or a jumpmaster to push it out the aircraft."

Whether operating in Afghanistan or Iraq, the implementation of LCLA delivery will prove invaluable as it becomes an Armywide standard in sustainment brigades.

"Since we're going to start pulling out of Iraq and heading into Afghanistan, there are going to be less vehicles in Iraq to do convoys," said Menchu. "With less vehicles, you're going to have to compensate for the amount of Soldiers you have to resupply. The LCLA system will balance that out."

While still a relatively new system, LCLA will carry the 593rd into a small family of units on the cutting edge of battlefield resupply.

"(The brigade now) has another means of delivery besides traveling up the road with a convoy," said Fowler.

Phil Sussman is a photojournalist with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.