News

1st FSSG parachute pros bypass Iraqi highway hazards to air drop supplies

1 Jun 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright

Avoiding the dangerous highways and taking to the open skies, Marines delivered a load of supplies by parachute May 20, 2004 -- their first since returning to Iraq earlier this year.

The 1st Force Service Support Group's Air Delivery Platoon made it possible to deliver these supplies without sending a ground convoy through nearby hostile territory, exposing Marines and their cargo to roadside bombs and attacks by anti-coalition forces.

The platoon's Marines hope news of the drop's success will get around to other units and generate requests for similar missions, said Gunnery Sgt. Lorrin K. Bush, leader of the parachute rigging unit, which falls under Combat Service Support Battalion 7.

Some of the platoon's 12 Marines feel they aren't used very often due to a lack of wide-spread awareness of their capabilities, said Cpl. Brian W. Trafton, a rigging inspector.

"The Marine Corps isn't too knowledgeable of the fact that we exist, so we're kind of having to prove our way as we go," said Trafton, a 23-year-old native of Albuquerque, N.M.

In the past, the Air Delivery Platoon has only been used when no other delivery methods were feasible, said Bush, who feels the recent drop to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion will begin to change that.

"The unique thing about air delivery is that we can fly in ... undetected and not give away their location," said Bush, a 34-year-old native of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

The KC-130 cargo plane, loaded with 22,000 pounds of food and bottled water, took off in total darkness, with its running lights extinguished and the pilots and crew donning night-vision goggles for the hour-long flight.

"We come in low and fast. We give the enemy very little opportunity to acquire us," said co-pilot Lt. Col. Jeffrey V. Young, 42, a reservist from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234, based in Fort Worth, Texas, which was one of the two squadrons supporting the mission.

The plane slowed as it approached the drop zone. Then, as the pilot pulled the aircraft up hard and increased power, the loadmasters in the cargo hold opened the back door.

"They release their gate and everything just slides out," said the pilot, Capt. Matthew W. Crocker, 28, with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, based at Miramar, Calif., and a native of Allendale, N.J.

After the Marines on the ground retrieved their supplies from the drop zone, they contacted Air Delivery Platoon to let them know everything, except for a few individual water bottles, had arrived undamaged, said Bush.

Though the flight only lasted an hour, the air delivery Marines spent most of the day before the flight preparing the cargo for the drop. The 16 pallets that were dropped had to be assembled according to very specific standards to ensure the supplies made it to the ground intact.

"You have to think about what you're doing. If you mess up even the slightest thing, it messes the mission up," said Cpl. Amanda J. Ruhsam, one of the platoon's parachute riggers responsible for packing the supplies, and a 20-year-old native of Palm Desert, Calif.

Once the pallets were packed, the Marines attached a special cargo parachute, which is about five times the size of a single-man parachute, to the top of each load. The Marines then placed them onto trucks for transport to the flight line, where they were loaded onto the aircraft.

This mission was only the Marine Corps' second combat supply drop since the Vietnam War, said Lt. Col. Adrian W. Burke, CSSB-7's commanding officer. The first was conducted during the riggers' first trip to Iraq last year.
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