138th Forward Support Company trains on sling loading at Fort Wood

By: Silas Allen
Missouri National Guard Public Affairs
Soldiers prepare to attach a shipping container to the bottom of a UH-60 Blackhawk at the Kit Bond Flight Facility at Fort Leonard Wood.
Sgt. Sean Cody and Pfc. Atom Gerlach lift a tarp off the back of a Humvee before rigging it to be lifted by a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter at the Kit Bond Flight Facility at Fort Leonard Wood.
Sgt. 1st Class Steven Laire, of the Army Sapper Leader Course, shouts instructions to Staff Sgt. Jonathan Ledbetter as Ledbetter directs the pilot of a UH-60 Blackhawk to move to the left.
Sgt. 1st Class Steven Laire, of the Army Sapper Leader Course, and Sgt. Raymond Holmes hook a shipping container to the bottom of a UH-60 Blackhawk. Once the container was hooked, the Soldiers jumped off the container before the helicopter lifted it.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - It isn't every day that a person sees a steel shipping container sailing through midair.

Eleven members of the Jefferson City-based 138th Forward Support Company conducted sling load training at the Kit Bond Flight Facility at Fort Leonard Wood on Jan. 9-10. During the training, the Soldiers learned to prepare and rig, among other things, a shipping container to be lifted by a helicopter.

The company serves in a support role to the other companies of the Missouri National Guard's 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Regiment. Although the group represented only a small percentage of the members of the entire unit, Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Kennedy, of the regiment's headquarters company, said the Soldiers who did participate benefited all the more from the training.

"The smaller class size allowed all the Soldiers to participate in every aspect of the sling load training multiple times," Kennedy said.

Sgt. 1st Class Steven Laire, of the Army Sapper Leader Course, served as the unit's trainer during the exercise. Laire said many factors, such as wind direction, ground conditions, the slope of the terrain, and size of the landing pad, must be considered when conducting sling load operations. Wind speed is less of a concern, Laire said, since helicopters can handle moderate winds as long as they are able to land into the wind.

"You can deal with some pretty good winds," he said.

On the first day of the training, Laire taught the Soldiers to rig a variety of vehicles, including a Humvee and a 2.5-ton truck, and other types of equipment to be lifted by a helicopter. Soldiers prepared the vehicles by removing the canvases, tarps and doors from the vehicles, taping up all glass surfaces and removing or fastening down any loose objects. Then they chained the steering wheel in place, put the vehicle in neutral and engaged the parking break.

Once the vehicle was prepared, they attached the ends of four ropes to four brackets on the vehicle, and attached the other ends of the ropes to a single shackle. The shackle was then attached to a connector, which was designed to fit over a hook on the bottom of a helicopter.

The following morning, Laire trained the Soldiers arm signals used for communicating with aircraft pilots in the air. The Soldiers then moved out to the flight facility's landing pad, where they took turns attaching a shipping container to the bottom of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.

The Soldiers rotated each aspect of the operation: one Soldier would operate the two-way radio, one would signal the helicopter and two would be responsible for attaching the ropes to the hook on the bottom of the helicopter.

Members of the Fort Leonard Wood-based Company C of the 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment served as the pilots for the exercise. Kennedy said the infantry company is working to forge a partnership with the aviation company. The partnership is beneficial to both sides, he said, because Soldiers from the infantry company receive training they wouldn't be able to have otherwise, and the aviation company's pilots get flight time out of the exercise, as well.

Sgt. 1st Class Keith Loethen, the company's readiness noncommissioned officer, said he expects that more members of the unit will be able to receive the training at the unit's upcoming annual training exercise.

"We're going to try to get a larger class and more training," Loethen said.

Kennedy said the training was particularly important for the unit because, as a light infantry unit, the company doesn't have many wheeled vehicles and tends to rely more heavily on air assets. In a real-world situation, Kennedy said, the unit would be supporting many companies in the field. Those companies wouldn't necessarily be positioned close together, he said, and could be located in mountainous terrain where wheeled vehicles couldn't go.

"You won't be able to use ground assets," he said.

Loethen agreed. Transporting equipment or vehicles by air allows the unit to reach other companies on the ground more quickly than they would be able to if they were using overland transportation routes, he said.

"We can get the stuff quicker by air than if we had to truck it," Loethen said. "It's basically a part of our mission."

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