By 1st Lt. Austin Liu, 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery, 35th ADA Brigade Public AffairsFebruary 16, 2011
SUWON AIR BASE, South Korea - U.S. Army 1st Lt. Steve Bonner conducted one final inspection on the sling load as he prepared for the arrival of the CH-47 helicopter.
His troops waited impatiently for his answer.
Bonner has conducted countless numbers of sling load operations in his 19 years of service. But on this afternoon, the cargo is different.
This would be his first time preparing the sling load to airlift Patriot missile canisters.
"Looks good, I cannot find a single gig this time," Bonner finally said with a smile, as his Soldiers breathed a sigh of relief.
They had been training diligently for this event, and now they were one step closer to executing one of the most unique operations they would ever take part in their military career.
The missile sling load operation is part of 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment's field training exercise conducted at Suwon and Osan Air Base.
Bonner, who serves as the Battalion Maintenance Officer, said. "If the roads are black, then the only way to resupply is through air by cargo planes or heavy lift choppers."
As the unmistakable roar of the powerful twin engines approached the flight line, a rush of adrenaline mixed with excitement took over Bonner and his Soldiers.
As a former NCO on the elite US Army combat diver team, Bonner was an expert at training and motivating Soldiers for special missions such as this afternoon's sling load operation.
He has trained his sling load ground team to specialize in three areas: grounding, hookup and signaling. And on this afternoon, Pfc. Alberto Alipio, Pfc. Matthew Hall and Spc. Myron Yazzie were fortunate enough to serve as members of the ground team.
At the signal of the helicopter crew chief, the team rushed into the strong whirlwind of dust and debris as they attempted to ground and hook up the missile canister for airlift.
"We did not expect the wind to be that strong ... it was like walking into a hurricane," said Yazzie, referring to the strong gust of wind underneath the hovering helicopter, commonly known as rotor wash.
"It was one thing to train and another to actually perform the task with the moving helicopter hovering so close above you, but we were not intimidated," said Hall.
The crew was able to successfully attach the sling to the helicopter and sprinted away just as the cargo began to lift off.
As they stood on the flight line watching the missile canister shrinking in the distance, the crew shared a silent moment of satisfaction and triumph.
"I joined the Army to do something different and what we did today right here proved that I made the right decision," said Alipio, a 19-year-old Long Beach, Calif.-native who enlisted in the Army as soon as he graduated high school.
His team member also shared the same enthusiasm.
"I was the type of individual always seeking adventure and that is why I volunteered for today's training," said Hal, a Lexington, Ky., native. "One of my new goals now is to attend the U.S. Army Air Assault School."
Bonner warmly congratulated his young team on the successful accomplishment of the mission.
"I have the option to retire in six months, but I have absolutely no desire to," Bonner confessed as he pointed at the young Soldiers. "It is because of them, I want to stay for as long as I can."
Bonner concluded, "We have successfully validated 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery Battalion's ability to conduct missile resupply to a forward-deployed Patriot firing battery through helicopter sling load."