Behind every military aerial delivery is a highly skilled group that meticulously prepare the chutes and the packages that seem to fall effortlessly out of their military transports. They are called Riggers.
Identified by their red “baseball” style hats, a U.S. Army rigger is a Soldier trained to pack, maintain, and repair parachutes. After WW2, the Army gave the Quartermaster Corps the mission of aerial delivery, including parachute rigging. Shortly after, a parachute rigger course was established at the U.S. Army Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, Virginia in 1951, and continues today.
Soldiers of the Nashville-based 861st Quartermaster Company, U.S. Army Reserve, operating in Qatar under the 77th Sustainment Brigade, have been preparing aerial drops for delivery to U.S. and partner nation forces spread across the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
“Riggers pack the parachutes for personnel, whether that is static line personnel jumps or halo jumps,” said Chief Warrant Officer Philip O. Hamill, officer in charge of Detachment 6, 861st Quartermaster Company. “They also pack and maintain cargo parachutes for things like a vehicle or a sustainment bundle.”
Their highly recognizable red hats are authorized for parachute riggers only.
“The red hat is to help to identify a parachute rigger quickly when we are supporting an airdrop or airborne operation,” said Hamill. “If there is an issue with a parachute, the jumpmaster can easily identify the rigger, get their attention, and the problem can be quickly addressed.”
One of the quality control measures used with riggers in the U.S. Army is that the riggers must jump with a randomly selected parachute that they packed.
“It is a way of keeping honesty and integrity in our profession,” said Hamill. “At any time if one of the rigger personnel are packing a parachute, I can come up and tag that parachute. The parachute is separated and the riggers name is placed on it so the next time we jump, they will use that parachute.”
There are many levels of complexity to the riggers trade and it goes well beyond the simple idea of rolling up a large piece of cloth with strings.
“We use a very complex parachute system,” said Sgt. Matthew A. Wimpelberg, operations noncommissioned officer in charge. “It is low cost system that is biodegradable so we can leave it out in the field and don’t have to recover anything. We just cut the straps take what we need and go.”
The 861st has been working out of a warehouse in Qatar to support aerial supply operations across the U.S. Central Command region. Supplies include water, food, fuel, blood, and medical supplies, among others.
“It is fulfilling to be able to participate in missions that help get our Soldiers fed and get the nutrients that they need,” said Wimpelberg. “Some units that are further away ... we can get them the supplies they need.”