Load ’em up and get ’em out: Fort Bliss Soldiers exercise sling load ops
Sgt. Erik Thurman,
15th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs:
A mobile training team traveling from Fort Lee, Va., that consisted of five instructors began training Fort Bliss Soldiers from multiple units to conduct sling load operations during a June 18 through 22 course at an installation training facility.
Sling loading is the practice of securing supplies, tactical vehicles, equipment, fuel or other battlefield necessities to a hook and cable mounted beneath a UH-60 Black Hawk or CH-47 Chinook helicopter in order to move supplies to a location more rapidly, safely and efficiently than would otherwise be done by vehicle convoy.
During the course, Soldiers are trained on how to safely move at a high rate of speed beneath a hovering helicopter which is sometimes hovering only feet above a load. Soldiers then ensure the load is secured to the aircraft before moving away to a safe location. A signal person who is stationed approximately 90 feet from the aircraft in full view of the pilot, then gives a sign which lets the pilot know that it’s safe to take the load to a higher altitude and to carry on with the mission.
“You need to understand and know what’s going on at all times,” said Ivan Andrade, a sling load instructor from Fort Lee. ”You’ve got this massive machine over you that is being controlled by someone else who can’t see you and you need to constantly be aware of what’s around you.”
Andrade spent 10 years in the Army as a fueler and explained that he spent his entire military career conducting sling load operations both in garrison and in the combat zone. He said there are a lot of details to be aware of like the amount of electricity that’s generated from such large aircraft. If the helicopter is not properly grounded, the subsequent shock could be enough to stop a Soldier’s heart, Andrade said.
The signal person stationed away from the aircraft, Andrade said, also has to be keenly aware of the Soldier’s status beneath the aircraft so he or she can accurately maintain constant communication with the pilot. One miscommunication can mean the difference between life and death.
“Like anyone else,” Andrade said, “the pilot wants to get in and out as fast as possible. The longer that they are there [at the battlefield], the more prone they are to being shot at.”
Andrade said when the enemy sees an aircraft bringing supplies or even entering the area at low altitude, there’s no mistaking that pilot’s vulnerability or the presence of Soldiers on the ground below.
“The pilot has their responsibility,” said Andrade. “And the hookup team below already knows what they are doing regardless of whether or not they have ever met the pilot face to face.”
Andrade said with the increased use of sling load operation, supplies are able to be transported faster than by convoy, which has been a dangerous element of today’s warfighting tactics. Simply put, sling load operations save lives.
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