Story by Staff Sgt. Brian Buckwalter
Editor’s Note: A Durant resident is featured in this story
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan – Hurricane-force winds whip around while a 75-pound hook charged with 200,000 volts of static electricity swings inches from their heads. There is no room for error.
As the largest helicopter in the U.S. military fleet hovers 10 feet above them, the Marine landing support specialists are responsible for a critical role on the ground. Air resupply missions quickly provide the lifeblood - water, food and ammo – for Marines in combat.
Most resupply missions in southwest Afghanistan are done by ground convoy. But, when time is short or Marines are in a remote location, the only option is a resupply by air.
That’s the situation Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment is in as they fight in the mountains of Helmand province. The road that leads to them is likely strewn with improvised explosive devices. A ground convoy could take days.
Gunnery Sgt. Tory Kidder, logistics chief, Regimental Combat Team 6, arranged an air delivery of 9,000 pounds – 4-and-a-half tons – of ammo, water, and food for Charlie Company. His team of landing support specialists with Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), prepared the load for transport.
The same team also undertook the difficult task of hooking the cargo to the bottom of the CH-53E Super Stallion hovering above them.
“It’s a rush,” said Lance Cpl. Troy Page, landing support specialist. “Every time I get under a helo, it reminds me why I joined the Marine Corps.”
Page, from Blythe, Calif., says in addition to the adrenaline rush from the feeling of being under a helicopter - which one Marine says compares to the same feeling as being at the top of a roller coaster right before decent - he loves knowing he’s helping his fellow Marines.
Lance Cpl. Andrew Jones, a landing support specialist from Chanhassen, Minn., agreed.
“It’s one of the few exciting moments when you work at the (flight line) on Delaram,” he said about helping with a HST mission. “This is the stuff they need to use to get their mission done.”
The pilots from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) are “the best pilots I’ve ever worked with,” Jones added.
For Jones and the other Marines under the helicopter, having a steady-handed pilot and an experienced crew chief relaying direction to the pilot are reassuring.
Once the helicopter is overhead, the logistics Marines work quickly, but cautiously. One wrong move, one small problem, could mean serious injury or loss of life. They grab the hook that hangs below the helicopter with a grounded hook of their own, preventing any discharge of static electricity the helicopter generates. They attached the hook to the cargo sling and quickly move away from the helicopter. For this mission, the whole process took less than two minutes.
“It was really easy,” said Lance Cpl. Heather Armstrong, a landing support specialist from Durant, Okla. “It went very smoothly.”
The Regimental Combat Team 6 falls under 1st Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.