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Expanding Aerial Delivery Capability in Afghanistan

In the summer of 2008, the requirements for Army airdrops in Afghanistan were increasing exponentially. Soldiers dropped a total of 1.2 million pounds of supplies in Afghanistan in 2005, and that amount steadily increased to more than 9 million pounds by the end of January 2009. Airdrop requirements were projected to exceed 20 million pounds by the end of 2009. Only one location, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, had a staging area for airdrops over Afghanistan. The Army needed to increase its airdrop capability in the region to meet the growing requirements.

Analyzing the Airdrop Issue

The Supply and Services Branch of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was tasked to determine what could be done to meet the increasing airdrop needs. Results of the analysis revealed that operations at Bagram Air Base were negatively affecting airdrop capabilities in Afghanistan. Combined Joint Task Force 101 (CJTF–101) parachute riggers at Bagram were limited by the small size of the facilities, and airfield congestion added to the maximum-on-ground (MOG) issues for aircraft. Unfortunately, the staging area at Bagram had no space to expand.

The analysis identified three alternate locations for staging airdrop operations in Afghanistan: Ballad Air Base, Iraq; Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait; and Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The 824th Quartermaster Detachment, with eight parachute riggers, operated a renovated rigger facility at Ballad, which initially appeared to be a viable course of action. However, the airfield at Ballad also had MOG issues, and the distance from Ballad to the drop zones in Afghanistan caused it to be ruled out as a choice. Ali Al Salem looked promising since it already had logistics support in place, but the analysis revealed shortfalls in available facilities and diplomatic restrictions on aircraft.

The analysis identified that Al Udeid Air Base also served as the C–17 Globemaster hub for the region, and C–17s could be used to deliver to multiple drop zones or drop as many as 40 bundles on a single drop zone. This option could reduce the numbers of C–130 Hercules sorties going into and out of Bagram and would assist with reducing the airfield’s MOG issues. This option also would allow the C–130s to fly backlogged pallets into C–130-capable airfields, thereby reducing the amount of backlogged pallets waiting to go forward.

Establishing a New Staging Area

The Supply and Services Branch contacted the airdrop technician for the 4th Sustainment Brigade in Kuwait, members of the 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment at Al Udeid Air Base, the 101st Joint Logistics Cell, and parachute riggers at Bagram Air Base to begin the process of establishing a new airdrop staging area. Before leaving Fort Bragg for Kuwait, the Supply and Services Branch’s representative for the trip, the command airdrop adviser, requested the assistance of senior airdrop technicians from the 4th Sustainment Brigade and a contact from the 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment to conduct an initial site survey of the three alternate locations so data would be available when the command airdrop adviser arrived in Kuwait a few weeks later.

After arriving in Kuwait, the command airdrop adviser provided the Army Central Command (ARCENT) deputy commander with an initial assessment. The briefing indentified Al Udeid Air Base as the best alternate location. The ARCENT deputy commander concurred and gave directions to complete a formal site survey of Al Udeid.

A formal survey of Al Udeid was conducted in August 2008 to verify that facilities could be provided for rigging classes I (subsistence), III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants), IV (construction and barrier materials), and V (ammunition). The survey was also conducted to ensure that life support for up to 28 Soldiers and all transportation and materials-handling equipment requirements could be provided.
The command airdrop adviser held a formal meeting with members of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid, and each organization discussed what was needed to establish and support a rigging facility at the base. All critical organizations were present, including the Al Udeid munitions branch, basing chief, facility engineers, and aerial port squadron and U.S. Air Force Directorate of Logistics representatives.

Initially, two obstacles existed: the unavailability of class I rations and bottled water and the lack of munitions storage at Al Udeid. The command airdrop adviser contacted the 1st TSC class I manager, who used an estimate that was developed by CJTF–101 to establish an initial stockage level of rations, unitized group rations, and bottled water. The 1st TSC class I officer immediately contacted the prime vendors, and the class I was in place in storage in Qatar within 30 days.

The munitions issue was more difficult to resolve. All the munitions storage igloos at Al Udeid were being used by U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and British units with little space for expansion. The 1st TSC, ARCENT, and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) class V managers were contacted for assistance. Eventually, a location was identified for relocating two igloos that the Air Force was using, allowing munitions to be brought in to support airdrop into Afghanistan.

After determining that Al Udeid was the best location to augment the airdrop support in Afghanistan and provide emergency resupply to the Iraq area of responsibility, the next issue was where to find parachute riggers. The logical choice was to use the 824th Quartermaster Detachment riggers in Ballad. Through several video teleconferences with CENTCOM, Multi-National Corps-Iraq, the 3d Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Air Force Central Command, CJTF–101, and ARCENT, it was determined that the 824th could be relocated from Iraq to Qatar. The detachment was relocated to Al Udeid Air Base on 27 November 2008.

Continuing Progress

To aid the growth of the staging area at Al Udeid, a working group—including the ARCENT G–3 future operations representative, ARCENT G–4 supply and services senior airdrop technician, 1st TSC senior airdrop technician, 4th Sustainment Brigade senior airdrop technician, 3d Expeditionary Sustainment Command senior airdrop technician, 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command air mobility representative, and 824th Quartermaster Detachment officer in charge—was formed in Kuwait. The purpose of this group was to track requirements, support agreements, and unit personnel moves; establish new theater Department of Defense activity address codes and unit identification codes; and assist with unit equipment moves from Iraq to Qatar. The group met as needed using video teleconferencing when available. The 1st TSC commander, his deputy, and the support operations chief were briefed weekly on the progress of all actions through the CJTF–101 logistics synchronization briefing and various command updates.

The first airdrop staged at Al Udeid Air Base was conducted on 8 December 2008. The airdrop consisted of 38 bundles of bottled water and served as the proof of principle for airdrop tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP). The TTP were validated with some minor changes. As of 2 October 2009, 3,049 bundles had been airdropped by the 824th Quartermaster Detachment at Al Udeid, equaling more than 4,635,060 pounds of classes I, III, IV, and V. The 824th Quartermaster Detachment’s personnel increased to 20 parachute riggers, and its total amount of supplies airdropped in support of Operation Enduring Freedom was projected to exceed 6 million pounds by December 2009.

Chief Warrant Officer (W–4) Jimmy Taylor was the command airdrop adviser for the Supply and Services Branch, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, and is currently assigned to the 1st Theater Sustainment Command as the senior airdrop technician. He has 26 years of airdrop experience and has worked at the platoon and company levels. He has a master’s degree in organizational management from Wayland Baptist University.

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