Legal eagle soars above them all

  • Published
  • By Col. Kjäll Gopaul
  • 451st Expeditionary Mission Support Group
In the austere, unforgiving land of Afghanistan, the battlespace denies the projection of airpower from sanctuary. Instead, the threat wanders just outside the perimeter's fenceline wearing traditional garb during the day and then rains rockets down on the base at night. Ground convoys between camps fall victim to improvised explosive devices, and airlift to combat outposts are restricted to the runways. Within this backdrop, 37 coalition troops mastered transporting cargo and personnel over the threat of improvised explosive devises and delivering it with pinpoint accuracy to almost any location in this war-torn nation using helicopters.

Among them was U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Terry A. Beasley, deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and currently serving as the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing legal office NCO in charge. On that blazing hot day in the Near East desert, he supported the airborne mission as the pick-up zone NCO in charge, ensuring the correct rigging of equipment, use of safety gear and proper procedures for slingloading cargo using helicopters. This was the 451st AEW's first-ever coalition-joint slingload mission. Selected because of his participation in a successful rehearsal the month before, Beasley described the events.

"During the first part of the mission, the American and coalition troops trained how to tactically load and offload an UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter," said Beasley. "That involved getting into our groups - our chalks - moving to the aircraft in a single line, buckling into our seats and holding our weapons correctly. After the flight, we performed a tactical offload by taking two steps and dropping to the prone firing position to defend the aircraft as it departed.

"It's important to practice loading an aircraft tactically," Beasley said. "Plus, it was exhilarating to fly around with the doors open and see things from that point of view.

"It can get hectic," he added. "You want to get strapped in as fast you can while staying safe," he said. "If you were taking fire or moving injured it's important to get on quickly and depart the area. You need to know what you're doing."

The rest of the mission involved slingloading, where a ground crew attached cargo to the hook on the bottom of the helicopter for transport. For this mission, Task Force Light Horse from the U.S. Army 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division supported the mission with Soldiers operating a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

"We spent most of the day slingloading cargo," Beasley said. "We had two different loads: a fuel blivet and an A-22 cargo bag. Just before the aircraft arrived each time, I made sure the slinglegs were S-curved together with breakaway ties, that the load was secure and that nothing would get tangled when attempting to lift the load."

Ensuring the members waited safely for the helicopter's arrival, connecting the cargo hook correctly and keeping them calm were part of his duties as the pick-up zone NCO in charge, Beasley said. They executed about 44 slingloads, with Beasley talking his hook-up crews through the instructions each time.

During each hook-up, one person held the reach pendant and one person braced the hook-up person. After connecting the cargo and ensuring there were no snags or tangles in the line, they moved out from under the aircraft to let the aircrew know the load was secured, Beasley said.

"It's extremely exciting," he said. "There is a lot of wind, and noise, and pressure as the aircraft comes closer, but once it's right above you, it's actually pretty calm under there. And you're anxious - there's a lot of trust going on. You have to rely on your training to overcome the uncertainty with the aircraft hovering just four feet above your head. I mean you could touch it. ... It's amazing."

Afterward, Beasley said the mission was valuable for both interservice relationships and logistical resupply. Every member left understanding how slingloading could be used to overcome dangerous areas and get cargo to a forward operating base.

"Any chance you have to work with a sister service and learn what they do is a great opportunity," he said. "Today, the younger troops learned how the services can work together to get things done and what helicopters bring to the fight. It's a huge combat multiplier to have folks trained on it."