SOUTHWEST ASIA-- The 386th Air Expeditionary Wing plays a major logistical role in delivering critical supplies to the frontlines in the war against ISIS. One of the ways the 386th AEW supports the Combined Joint Task Force -Operation Inherent Resolve mission is by conducting airdrops to move supplies downrange.
The airdrop missions flown by the 386th AEW’s aircrews are the direct result of a working partnership between the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army. At the heart of that partnership is the relationship between the Army parachute riggers and the Air Force loadmasters.
“Whether in theater or back in garrison, we are constantly working with different air wings from across the Air Force,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Justin Devaul, a parachute rigger assigned to an Army special operations forces group. “They are either flying to our station or we are going temporary duty to their station, and they are getting certified on different types of air bundles while we are staying proficient at our jobs. So it’s never ending. We need the Air Force in order for any of this to happen.”
The airdrop process begins with the Army parachute riggers who receive a supply request from warfighters on the frontlines. The requests range from food and water to ammunition and special equipment. Whether it’s a routine re-supply or an emergency re-supply, the riggers quickly get to work palletizing and rigging up the materials.
“Our process is very important because once we receive the request on what they need we have a limited time, so if we rig the wrong thing or rig a malfunction into an airdrop, that could hurt the ground troop,” said Devaul. “If they are in a serious situation where they need ammo and we send the wrong ammo, that could really hinder their performance. Without the attention to detail from both the Army and the Air Force, the ground personnel would really be struggling.”
Devaul’s prior experience on the ground brings a real sense of urgency to him and his fellow riggers to fill re-supply requests as quickly as possible.
“Seeing things from both points of view, it is definitely beneficial, because when we receive an emergency request here, you know what those guys are feeling on the ground,” said Devaul. “Being on the ground and having that emergency come up, you really need to have the riggers back here or wherever it is to really be on top of their game. They’re going to drop you ammo or whatever special items that you’re going to need to continue on with the fight, and it can really change the outcome.”
Once the items are rigged up, the Army riggers work with the Air Force to get the items onto a plane and airdropped to the target location.
The day of the drop, the planes are loaded and the Army riggers board to attach static lines to the airdrop bundles. Airdrop bundles are rigged within specific guidelines to ensure the cargo properly exits the aircraft, the parachute properly deploys, and the bundle lands intact on its target.
It is the responsibility of the joint airdrop inspectors to ensure all the airdrop bundles are properly rigged before the airplane takes off. An Air Force JAI-certified loadmaster and an Army rigger work together to conduct the inspection of each bundle.
“The Air Force loadmaster and the Army rigger are going through to make sure nothing is cut or frayed on the load itself, making sure the correct parachute is attached, the static line is attached correctly and everything is working properly,” said Devaul.
“There are quite a bit of things involved in rigging an airdrop,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Harper, a loadmaster with the 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. “It’s a lot more complicated than just loading the bundles and kicking them out. Depending if it’s heavy equipment or low-cost low-altitude small stuff, or if it’s a bigger containerized deliver system drop, they all have different types of chutes, all have different types of rigging so it’s important to know everything that you are looking for.”
Devaul and Harper agree that attention to detail by both the Army and Air Force is essential to ensuring success of these high priority missions.
“The inspection itself is very vital,” said Harper. “If that inspection isn’t done properly you could have a load that would go out of the airplane wrong, fail in flight or not get to the end user.”
The riggers and loadmasters understand that their rigging and inspections directly impact the troops on the ground, especially if it’s an emergency request where there are troops in contact who are counting on that pallet full of ammunition.
“It’s a big sense of pride because you know that without the work that both the Army and the Air Force are doing, those guys wouldn’t be able to continue fighting,” said Devaul. “Thank God they are trained at what they do and they are great at what they do on the ground, but they wouldn’t be able to do that if we weren’t sending them things from the sky. We send them everything they need so there is a lot of pride in our work.”