Airmen train for SOF resupply

USAF photo: Airman 1st Class Evelyn Chavez An MC-130W Combat Spear drops a container release system load at the Melrose Air Force Range during a training exercise on Sept. 23. The drops are done at least once a week and prepare the aircrews for resupply missions in areas without airfields.

By 2nd Lt. Raymond Gobberg: 27th SOW Public Affairs

What seems like routine training for 27th Special Operations Wing C-130W aircrews, loadmasters and logistics airmen here in reality prepares them to execute missions downrange.

“Special operations forces that are deployed rely on this type of air drop very much,” said Staff Sgt. Jerimy Pickering, an aerial delivery pararigger for the 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron. “If an airfield is destroyed and the aircraft is not capable of landing, or the SOF are located where there is no landing zone, the only method of resupply is via air drop.”

With weekly drops over the Melrose Air Force Range, Cannon airmen ensure that aircrews are trained to deliver vital resources such as food or ammunition to SOFs worldwide.

“Doing these types of drops reduces the number of convoys needed for resupply,” said Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Seibt, 73rd Special Operations Squadron loadmaster. “They get essential equipment and cargo to those forces who are working daily in ‘hot’ areas.”

“All aircrews utilize this training,” she said. “The entire front end of the aircraft is multitasking with checklists, radio calls, systems, and two loadmasters in the back moving around cargo.”

Because every situation is different, the loadmasters in the back of the aircraft, who physically release the loads, are trained on every type of drop to ensure proficiency regardless of the mission requirements.

“We need to make sure we know what type of drop the user needs for their situation,” said Sergeant Seibt. “Most of the locations we will be going to are hot and the guys on the ground do not need to be hunting or waiting for their supplies.”

“Our job is all about combat readiness,” she said. “We have no other mission than to train to be combat effective.”

Supporting this mission, airmen from the 27th SOLRS construct aerial delivery loads, specific to the Air Force Special Operations Command mission, out of wood or metal, and prepare them to be dropped over the range at Melrose, said Sergeant Pickering.

“The Container Delivery System is an example of a quick load,” said Sergeant Pickering. “We take four plastic barrels, place them in a sling, tie them down and place them on a skid board with the proper amount of energy-dissipating material.”

More complex loads can take as long as a few days to construct. This process, known as rigging among logistics airmen, is a crucial step in ensuring that the aerial delivery is successful.

“To make sure that the load is rigged up correctly, a joint airlift inspection is performed before it heads out to the aircraft to be loaded,” said Sergeant Pickering.

“Cargo is not simply cargo,” said Sergeant Seibt. “It has to be rigged in a specific manner to ensure the cargo is effective upon hitting the ground.”

Once the load is rigged and inspected by a qualified joint airlift inspection loadmaster, it is transported to the aircraft, loaded, and prepared for the drop on MAFR.

As the aircraft approaches the range, airmen from the 27th SOLRS meet with the drop zone control officer and prepare for the aerial delivery.

Robert Kohon, a former combat controller, acts as one of several DZCOs on the range during the process. Throughout the drop, he maintains direct communication with the aircrew and clears them to drop on the target, said Sergeant Pickering.

“I ensure that a safe drop zone exists prior to, and during, drops,” said Mr. Kohon. “Additionally, I provide pertinent air drop information, such as wind speed, and report any activity in or around the drop zone to the aircrew delivering the loads.”

Mr. Kohon works for Akima, a civilian company contracted to handle drops over the range, and says he is proud to be a part of this essential training.

“We know that the aircrews need to be trained to fight in any war or conflict should they be called upon,” said Mr. Kohon. “We are very privileged to be able to continue to serve alongside the AFSOC family as civilians.”

After the DZCO clears the aircraft for the delivery, the navigator signals to the loadmaster to drop the load. The package is then released, floating effortlessly to the ground where 27th SOLRS airmen wait to recover it as the drop zone control officer assesses the drop.

“I am excited to be part of such a vital role in the U.S. Air Force,” said Senior Airman Helen Eberle, 27th SOLRS. “The training received at Cannon Air Force Base helps get supplies to dangerous places where they are needed most.”

The aerial deliveries complement training drops at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and have been happening at Cannon since the 27th Special Operations Wing stood up on Oct. 1, 2007, said Sergeant Pickering.

“Ever since AFSOC took control of Cannon we have been accomplishing air drops,” he said. “They started slowly at first, but we now have a steadier workload due to the increased number of aircraft and crews that need training.”