The 87th Quartermaster Detachment (Parachute)
has served a unique role as the sole Active Army
airborne unit in Okinawa, Japan, since 2005.
The unit will inactivate as part of a scheduled Army
drawdown in the Pacific theater this year. Made up of
Army parachute riggers, the detachment is responsible
for servicing and maintaining all equipment for aerial
delivery contingency operations in Okinawa and the
rest of Japan. Annually, the detachment packs and
inspects an average of 14,000 pieces of aerial delivery
equipment at Sagami General Depot, near Tokyo, and
maintains hundreds of wartime contingency parachutes
stored in Okinawa.
|A Marine sergeant watches
an Army sergeant pack
an MC1–1D parachute.
Operation Cobra Gold
Annually, the 87th Quartermaster Detachment participates
in Cobra Gold, a bilateral exercise built around
the exchange of military training and experience with
the Royal Thai Army. During past Cobra Gold exercises,
the detachment has built important and lasting
multinational and joint relations with both the Thai
Army and the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa. For the past 3 years, the 3d
Marine Logistics Group
and the 87th Quartermaster
Detachment have deployed
paratroopers from Okinawa
to Thailand to serve as the
combined aerial delivery element
in support of Operation
For years, Marine and
Army parachute riggers in
Okinawa have been combining
efforts to conduct joint
parachute rigging operations
in the Pacific. Historically, the riggers have executed a
broad range of aerial operations,
including packing and
performing hundreds of day
and night low-level static-line
parachute and military freefall
parachute jumps. The riggers
also have dropped more
than 16,000 pounds of cargo,
all of which hit the drop zone
without a single malfunction
These missions have provided
great opportunities for
combined training and team
building among the services
and have helped to foster an
enduring relationship among
Army and Marine Corps riggers.
All training conducted
by the parachute riggers is
executed with the safety of
the community and participants
in mind. All actions
taken by the U.S. participants follow well-established
safety procedures. This training remains essential for
U.S. troop readiness, the mutual defense of Japan, and
regional peace and security.
Army and Marine Corps Collaboration
In October 2010, the 87th Quartermaster Detachment
and the 3d Marine Logistics Group signed a memorandum
of agreement to operate jointly out of one facility.
Since then, both units have strategically combined
resources and linked efforts on airborne operations and
daily missions such as inventories and shop maintenance.
The colocation of the two units has been a beneficial
learning experience in joint operations for both services.
Working closely with one another has enabled an
exchange of experience and knowledge that has helped
each service grow and learn from the other.
According to Army rigger Sergeant Terrance Alvarez, "Even though we have the same basic skill sets, there
are differences in techniques the two branches use to
accomplish the same task." Marine riggers, for example,
follow slightly different packing protocols than
Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses. The
Marine riggers are known to be experts in heavy drops
(loads greater than 500 pounds). Although Soldiers
from the 87th Quartermaster Detachment also are
proficient in executing the same containerized delivery,
bundle, and platform drops, they have more expertise
in static-line personnel drops. As a joint force, the units
have relied on each other's experiences to become better
riggers overall. During exercises, Army jumpmasters
work hand-in-hand with Marine jumpmasters to
safely execute joint airborne operations.
When it comes to establishing and running a drop
zone, standard operating procedures largely remain the
same. However, Marine and Army riggers contribute to
the shared operation by providing experience and input
from their respective services.
"Working with the Marines has provided me with
insight into a different world of parachute rigging [that]
I wouldn't have otherwise been privy to," said Army
Corporal Edwin Bocanegra-Torres. "We reach the same
end state, but the process we use for getting there can
vary. I wouldn't say one method is better than the other,
but the Marines have definitely shared techniques and
capabilities with us that we wouldn't otherwise have
been exposed to in a standard Army environment."
The bottom line for both units is that as a combined
force, they share the same overall goal. "When we conduct
an operation together, it isn't about being an Army
Soldier or being a Marine; it's about being a rigger," said Army Specialist Kyle McNary. "It's about getting
people out of the bird safely and getting the equipment
to the ground in one piece."
|A Soldier inspects another Soldier's jump gear before a jump.
Advantages of the Joint Relationship
The joint relationship these units have built is rare
and special for tactical-level parachute rigging operations.
Working as a team has enabled both services to
streamline their operations and obtain the most effective
use of resources, funding, and training opportunities.
Serving as a joint capability in Okinawa has also
provided a distinctive learning experience for Soldiers.
According to Army jumpmaster and Quartermaster
detachment noncommissioned officer-in-charge Staff Sergeant Archie Gadsen, "Serving with Marine jumpmasters
has been a broadening experience, and it's
unlike anything else I have done in the Army. We are
better Soldiers and technical experts because of this
"The day I leave this island will be a sad day because
this is the only place in the military where
parachute riggers from the different services can work
together, said Army Corporal Jorge Alaniz. "It's been
fun, I've made lots of friends, and I have enjoyed this
opportunity to work with the Marines."
When asked about serving with the Army riggers,
Marine Corporal Elizabeth Myers said, "Out of my 5
years of service, [working with Army riggers] has easily
been one of the greatest experiences I've had in that
time. The Army riggers brought diversity to not only
the job we do but also the daily work environment."
This year, all personnel from the 87th Quartermaster
Detachment will be reassigned to other units as the detachment
inactivates. By official standards, this means
that the detachment could be called back to active duty
years down the road. However, for now, the aerial
delivery mission in the Pacific must be handed over to
Although the detachment is inactivating, many feel
history has been made through this experience. As Staff
Sergeant Gadsen put it, "The relationships that have
been made between the Army and Marine parachute
riggers cannot be replaced. Even with the unit inactivating,
these friendships will last a lifetime, and the
lessons learned will stay with us forever."