By Capt. Toni Tones, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 21, 2008 - With support from the Army's 11th Quartermaster Rigger Detachment and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force riggers here, C-130 crews of the Air Force's 74th Air Expeditionary Squadron set an airdrop record last month. The joint team delivered about 1 million pounds of supplies to forward deployed forces in Afghanistan and humanitarian aid for Afghan villages in February. This was a 40 percent increase from January operations and breaks the previous record set in September, officials said.
"This winter has been very harsh and cold. ... Bad weather and impassable roads were the primary reasons for the increase (of air drop operations)," said Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Morris, former 774th EAS director of operations. "We had to deliver the cargo to the villagers and the troops -- airdrop was the best means to get it there."
The squadron's C-130 Hercules transports offer advantages over helicopters, Army Chief Warrant Officer Joe DeCosta, airdrop system technician and detachment commander, said.
"Rotary wing aircraft can also be used to deliver supplies, just not as much and it's not as safe as the higher flying cargo aircraft," he explained.
Two types of aerial delivery are used in Operation Enduring Freedom, DeCosta said: low-cost, low-altitude delivery, known as LCLA, with Casa 212s and container delivery system, or CDS, delivery using Air Force C-130s and C-17s.
"LCLA is very effective for small groups," DeCosta said, "but it will never replace the amount of supplies that can be delivered by CDS."
The CDS is the Army's system for building and rigging bundles using parachutes, plywood skid boards and honeycomb-structured energy-dissipating materials. The bundles can range from 500 to 2,200 pounds.
The 21-person detachment is set up to rig 50 CDS bundles with more than 100,000 pounds of supplies a day for a 12-day sustainment period, but could probably double that if needed, DeCosta said. For February, the detachment created more than 480 CDS bundles totaling 650,000 pounds for coalition forces throughout Afghanistan.
Nearly 35 percent of the record cargo delivered in February was humanitarian assistance such as blankets, rice, beans, coal, oil and stoves to Afghan villagers hit hard by the extreme winter weather. More than 300 people died from the severe conditions, according to Afghan government reports.
The other 600,000-plus pounds were supplies to coalition troops at forward deployed locations who are defeating insurgents and bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.
"We keep approximately 150 contingency bundles ready at all times to support any type of emergency or humanitarian mission that could arise," DeCosta said. In addition to normal supplies for forward units, he added, the riggers try to drop anything the units request. "We've created bundles of Gatorade, ice cream, fruits, vegetables and even some of the frozen food served in the dining facilities," he said.
A rigger checks the bundles for quality, then stages them the night prior for transport to the aircraft. Once they're loaded onto the aircraft, the loadmaster and joint airdrop inspector inspect the load with a different rigger to ensure everything is secure and ready to drop.
"The only way for this to work is when the Army and Air Force work together," said Air Force Master Sgt. Mike Pierson, 774th EAS joint airdrop inspector, deployed from the Delaware Air National Guard's 142nd Airlift Squadron. "Operating here in a combat environment is where it all pays off."
(Air Force Capt. Toni Tones serves with 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)