PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – With the constant threat of improvised explosive devices and insurgent attacks, as well as few usable roads and treacherous mountain passes, getting necessary supplies to troops at some of Afghanistan’s most remote posts and bases can prove both challenging and deadly.
In order to combat those threats and still accomplish the mission, a special team of Soldiers and civilians are working together at Forward Operating Base Sharana in a unique partnership.
The team uses a highly-effective and battle-proven method of resupply called low-cost, low-altitude air drops.
The technique involves attaching supplies to specially designed parachutes, then dropping them out of civilian-owned and -operated airplanes to the troops below.
“Our mission is to provide support to all ground troops for the 3rd Brigade, as well as special forces and Afghan National Army Soldiers,” said Staff Sgt. Carlos Gomez, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge, LCLA team, 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Bde., 101st Airborne Division. “The purpose is to supply the troops as quickly as possible in the least expensive and safest way.”
The process starts in a large hangar on FOB Sharana. Using a variety of ropes, straps, shrink-wrap and cardboard, Gomez and the other three Soldiers of his team securely fasten supply items to small wooden pallets.
Bottled water, food, ammunition, construction materials, weapons and weapon parts are some of the commonly dropped items.
Once the materials are properly packaged, the team attaches small black disposable nylon parachutes to the top of each pallet. The parachutes cost about $150 each and the number attached depends on the weight of the pallet.
After the team has prepared all the pallets for a mission, they use a forklift to load them onto a flatbed truck. Then they are transported to the flight line and loaded into the back of a Casa 212 airplane, piloted and crewed by civilians.
Each drop usually involves multiple aircraft, which normally carry between three and four pallets each, depending on weight and load dimensions.
The method the team uses to drop the supplies is one that can give passengers quite a ride.
“The planes will usually drop down to about 150- to 200-feet, level out and then when they are over the drop zone, climb sharply,” said Gomez. “The steep angle and gravitational force assist in pulling the pallets out of the aircraft.”
Much like a static line that paratroopers use when jumping out of aircraft, the parachutes on top of the pallets are attached by a line to the inside of the airplane. When the pallets are forced out, the pressure on the lines causes the parachutes to open.
Although the process may sound relatively easy, the work that goes into it certainly is not. During the month of July alone, the team dropped more than 330 pallets; delivering supplies to about 32 forward operating bases.
“We have been doing these missions every other day and sometimes we do as many as 40 loads a day” said Gomez. “It’s physically demanding and it will definitely keep you busy. But it is well worth it.”