BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Intense, excitement and fun are some of the words that begin to describe the way two parachute riggers from Task Force Lifeliner feel as they prepare for sling load operations.
Specialist Vonza Abney, a native of Hinesville, Ga., and Pfc. Hanook M. Chi, a native of Seoul, South Korea, arrive every morning prepared to face the wild and chaotic rotor wash in order to sustain Soldiers through sling load operations.
As the aircraft hovers above these two riggers ready to pick up the cargo, the Soldiers brace themselves against the strong winds and debris that they know is coming their way. Although it can be a bit painful at times, the riggers always complete the mission and hook the load to the belly of the aircraft.
This top priority task provides troops with the necessities needed to continue operations in Afghanistan throughout Forward Operating Bases in Regional Command-East, North and Capital.
The air operations sling load team conducted a total of 322 sling load operations during the months of June and July, moving more than 600 metric tons of cargo to troops. The team sling loads everything from food for survival to ammunition.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Thomas E. Mace, a native of McEwen, Tenn., and air mobility non-commissioned officer in charge with Task Force Lifeliner, the benefit of the sling load is that the Soldiers can move large cargo easier and more efficiently.
Mace explained, “You can get it done quicker, you don’t have to have the [forklift] out here if you already got everything staged, all you’re doing is hooking and booking … you’re not having to sit around.”
Abney explains in detail the process of their daily sling loads.
As a rule, the riggers first conduct a thorough inspection of the cargo. They look for things that may endanger the cargo, the aircraft and personnel.
“You want to use tape because you don’t want any excess like strings or something that can potentially get caught on the sling loads itself. You want to make sure everything is secure and tight,” explained Abney.
After the inspection and the aircraft arrives on the scene, the riggers speak with the pilot and they decide what type of sling load will best suit their cargo. Between the two riggers and their NCOIC, they decide which duties each will have for the mission.
Finally, using hand signals they guide the pilots to the cargo for pick up then hook the load to the bird. Once the aircraft secures the sling, the Soldiers quickly dash away so it can airlift the load safely up and away.
This job is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to do this type of work. But in the end, the riggers feel rewarded.
“I like it,” Abney said. “I like the rush, the adrenaline rush. It’s fun. It’s something new every day as far as loads goes, and I just enjoy it. It makes me feel good that I’m actually supplying people who need supplies. Getting it to them safely so that convoys can stay off the roads.”