By Ben Sherman, Fort Sill PAOFebruary 9, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 9, 2012) -- The 168th Brigade Support Battalion recently participated in an exercise with the U.S. Air Force and the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
Their goal involved pushing heavy loads out of an airplane.
"What we're doing today is dropping the containerized delivery system or CDS bundles," said Lt. Col. David Waddell, 168th BSB commander. "It's a very good joint-training opportunity that we have."
Working with riggers from the logistical support battalion of the 97th Logistical Readiness Squadron from Altus Air Force Base, the loadmasters from the 168th BSB practiced loading pallets onboard an Army C-23B+ Sherpa cargo plane. The Sherpa serves as a mainstay of cargo delivery for the Army in Afghanistan.
"They're using a system called 'low-cost, low altitude' over in Afghanistan, which means that the load exits the craft and it falls to the ground, with just enough parachute to slow it just a bit," said Capt. Matthew Miller, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 168th BSB pathfiinder. "It's the fastest way to get equipment and supplies into inaccessible areas. You can rig anything -- ammunition, water, food or supplies. Almost anything you can drop out of the back of an aircraft and get it to the ground, except fuel," Miller said.
Before the cargo pallets could be dropped, they had to be rigged. That's the job of Air Force riggers like Staff Sgt. Jason Mavrogeorge, 97th Air Mobility Wing logistics rigger. "Right now the CDS bundles are rigged for breakaway. They weigh about 550 pounds each and are used for resupplying troops on the ground," he said.
After the riggers finished checking the straps and parachutes one last time, the logisticians of the 168th BSB swung into action. Their goal was to be proficient in loading the cargo in the plane.
"My crew is involved with loading the cargo. We're going to load it and make sure there are no deficiencies when we drop it off. One reason we're doing air load operations is in the event that there is a natural disaster," said Pfc. Kathleen Root, A Company, 168th BSB. "I'm an ammunition supply specialist, and this is cross-training for me and my crew. The Army wants us to be well-rounded so this is a good opportunity for us to be trained in different areas, because you never know what might come up and you have to be able to handle it."
That cross training helps the Soldiers of the 168th be ready for anything that may come their way. To test their abilities in that area they trained with the Oklahoma Air National Guard last November in an exercise known as "Operation Sooner Response." The scenario was a catastrophic disaster, leaving people without essential supplies.
"If there was an earthquake in eastern Oklahoma and all of the bridges were knocked out and the only way in was by airplane, we could easily throw boxes of food and water out of an aircraft to the civilians on the ground to help them," stated Waddell.
Those boxes of food and water need to be something that can be carried away from the drop zone, either in a disaster area, or especially in remote parts of Afghanistan.
"We unitize the cargo on these pallets because the guys on the receiving end might not have the means to distribute bulk cargo. So we always do individual packaging, like MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) or bottled water or ammo that is individually packaged, depending on what weapons are being used. It is all easy," said Miller. "It's man-portable. They can break it apart and carry it, and don't have to have a vehicle come get it. So that's why we always drop individualized packets."
Miller knows how important the receiving end of a drop is. He is one of three trained pathfinders with the 168th BSB. Pathfinders go in ahead to survey the drop zone and mark it for the airdrop. When the plane arrives over the zone, the pathfinders function as air traffic controllers, giving the pilot precise information to aid in the drop.
The drop zones for the Sherpa only need to be 25 meters in diameter versus the several hundred meters that a C-17 Globemaster III would need. A tiny "X" marks the center of the drop zone.
"The key to operations here is to give training on what we call 'mission essential tasks' for a brigade support battalion to deliver supplies through air delivery methods, which can mean slingload under a helicopter, or by aircraft like we are doing today," said Miller.
"The jumpmaster on the plane pushes that bundle out the back of the plane so there is some 'art' to getting it to hit a 25-meter circle on the ground. That's why we train with them, and they train with us. Because as important as it is for us to mark the drop zone, the real training is on the Air Force jumpmasters and riggers, the guys who are going to push it out of back of the airplane at 200 feet, with the pilot holding the steady course. It's a very good joint training opportunity that we have," emphasized Waddell.
Waddell knows that training is not always fun in the Army, but he believes that these airdrop exercises mean a lot to his Soldiers.
"In a BSB we're the guys who run the warehouses. We're the guys who deliver supplies and fuel. So when we can come out here and train on a real aircraft and do 'go-to-war' type tasks, this is good stuff, and the Soldiers love it. A lot of guys will leave my battalion and go to other units, and they'll tell those guys, 'We did this or that with such and such aircraft.' And, the other guys will say 'What do you mean? All we did was pick up trash and cut grass!' So my Soldiers love being out here doing this training," said Waddell.