AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar –
While the parachute riggers of the Army Reserve’s 824th Quartermaster Company, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., may not include packing parachutes for Soldiers to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, the supplies and equipment they prepare for aerial delivery are no less vital to the survival of Soldiers.
“Our mission is to provide theater airdrop capabilities and support to both Coalition and U.S. forces,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kim Clark, Commander of the 824th QM Co.
Food, water, fuel and ammunition are some of the more typical items the 824th prepare for aerial delivery to remote locations, however, they are prepared to support rigging anything the mission calls for.
“We can drop pretty much anything in the military inventory,” said Clark.
Aerial delivery operations allows expeditionary or isolated units to receive the sustenance and equipment they need when they either do not have or are cut off from established supply lines. This allows forward units in hostile or austere environments to carry out or continue their mission despite the limitations of their area of operations.
“Parachute Riggers provide an essential support function in response to emerging situations. When typical means of delivering supplies via ground or air land are not available, Parachute Riggers deliver those essential supplies from the sky via parachute so that our Coalition and Partner Forces can continue the fight,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Kanzler, the airdrop systems technician for the 369th Sustainment Brigade.
The process begins when the 824th receives their mission from their higher headquarters. The riggers then begin planning.
“Planning is key to our mission,” said Sgt. Timothy Williams, Joint Airdrop Inspector of the 824th. “Once we know it’s coming, we backwards plan. We start doing everything up to that point backwards. We get all the supplies we that we need. We figure out how much we’ll need and we start building.”
The riggers of the 824th begin the building process from scratch for every load they are tasked with. The walls of their non-descript workshop at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar are lined with shelves stacked with everything they need. It begins with a wooden board that is cut to fit the load and then drilled with holes to begin weaving in the various tubing and webbing to secure the load. The load may consist of anything from a few cases of water or rations, to 55 gallon metal drums, to large cardboard bulk containers.
The riggers then begin stacking large pieces of energy dissipating material, commonly referred to as “honeycomb,” in order to absorb the impact when the load lands. It resembles large, thick corrugated cardboard. The amount of honeycomb needed depends on the speed at which the load will fall. The higher the velocity, the higher the honeycomb needs to be stacked in order to ensure the load isn’t damaged when it hits the ground.
The loads are then fitted with a parachute. Unlike the parachutes used to deliver airborne personnel, the parachutes that are affixed to these sustainment loads are packed by civilian companies and delivered to the riggers, ready to go. They just need to be attached to the load. The parachutes come in various sizes, but essentially come down to two types: high and low velocity. The airdrop altitude, available drop zone area, and the materiel being dropped determines which type of parachute is used.
Riggers in the Army wear a signature red baseball cap to distinguish themselves from other Soldiers. This was done so riggers could be quickly identified when a deficiency was found and needed to be repaired.
“A lot of people don’t understand exactly what we do as riggers,” said Thomas. “We do our jobs just like everybody else and a lot of people wonder why we wear the red hats. And this is why we wear the red hats.”