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Getting down and dirty: Maxwell reservists team up with other airmen, soldiers for helicopter passenger, slingload training.

Reservists from the 908th Airlift Wing teamed up with other Airmen from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and aviation Soldiers from the Alabama Air National Guard March 21 for tactical helicopter passenger and crosscountry slingload training.

The day began with passenger training. A total of 32 Airmen practiced loading onto two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with dummy M-16 rifles. They started off slowly by walking in groups to the aircraft and boarding with the rotors not turning. Then they progressed to running in formation, weapons in hand, to their assigned aircraft with the rotors turning and properly buckling themselves in.

After a short flight, the Airmen performed a tactical off-load: exiting the aircraft, taking two steps and dropping to the ground in the prone supported firing position to defend the helicopters as they departed the landing zone.

Master Sgt. Karen Hiers, director of the Paralegal Craftsman Course for the Air Force Judge Advocate General's School at Maxwell, planned the participation of 16 of her students in the exercise.

"Some of the NCOs had been crew chiefs before cross-training over to legal, so they were really excited about this because they had never actually flown on an aircraft before," she said. "It's a little ironic they were in a flying unit but had never flown. But as part of our deployment and operations training at Maxwell, they do fly.

"They all said how this was so much more valuable because the training was so true-to-life and not just simulations or computer-based training."

"We were getting down in the dirt. ... training as we fight," said Staff Sgt. Frank Masalla, NCO in charge of adverse actions for the Ogden Air Logistics Center judge advocate office at Hill AFB, Utah. "Airmen--paralegals included--are doing this in Iraq. It's good that we were able to learn this in a less stressful environment."

In the afternoon, the training focus shifted from passengers to cargo--specifically the recovery of eight cargo items airdropped by C-130s from the 908th AW onto a drop zone 12 miles west of Maxwell AFB. In four runs over the drop zone, a pair of C-130s dropped two 2,000-pound containerized delivery systems and two 4,000-pound pallet platforms.

Once the drops were completed and the airspace was clear, the two Black Hawk helicopters moved in to recover the cargo. The helicopters utilized procedures developed by the Air Force Reserve's 25th Aerial Port Squadron to simultaneously carry the cargo from slings instead of using one helicopter at a time. The final part of the exercise involved the helicopter recovery of the ground crew from the drop zone back to Maxwell.

"When you can have all of the available aircraft executing simultaneous slingloads, that maximizes time on the landing zone, decreases your turn-around time for each lift, and demonstrates very efficient and productive landing zone operations," said Army Capt. Brad Williams, commander of Alpha Company, 1-131 Aviation Regiment.

"When we train with helicopters for drop zone recovery, it makes for easy re-deployment of our airdrops back to the base," said Chief Master Sgt. Lynn Whited of the 25th APS. "The Black Hawks fly in, and our specially trained Airmen hook up the loads. After a few turns, the helicopter picks up the ground crew. At the end of it all, I looked around and the drop zone was empty except for me. It was a thing of beauty."

The chief said everyone involved benefitted from the joint training.

"The Army helicopter crews stay proficient on slingload support of units, our Airmen reinforce using an alternate method of aerial delivery, and we all learn about training with other services," he said.

Lt. Col. Paul Baird, 25th APS commander, explained how valuable helicopter recovery operations are to the 908th AW mission.

"Slingloads are a cost-efficient and expeditious way for the 25th APS to recover airdropped items from remote drop zones," Colonel Baird said. "In addition, slingloading has the advantage of rapid movement from a drop zone, bypassing ground obstacles. It greatly reduces our support footprint for manning and equipment on the landing zone. We don't need to transport our forklifts, low-boy trucks and aerial porters to the site to recover the loads.

"We not only save fuel but also manpower," he said. "Now I can have 25th APS personnel working other important tasks instead of driving back and forth to a drop zone. Slingloading requires two Airmen to rig the loads and prepare the LZ for recovery of the airdropped items by helicopter. Every Airman knows that flexibility is a key tenet of the Air Force, and you can see how slingloading provides me a great deal of flexibility."

Colonel Baird said the training provides benefits that reach far beyond just Maxwell AFB.

"Cargo movement and resupply by helicopter are routine in deployed environments, particularly to unimproved forward operating bases without airfields," he said. "Having the aerial porters in the 25th APS stay proficient in this area makes them a combat force multiplier for the deployed mission."


Lt. Col. Kjall Gopaul

(Colonel Gopaul is chief of the Doctrine Education Division at the LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, Maxwell AFB.)
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Author:Gopaul, Kjall
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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