Helicopter Support Team conducts night operations via sling load

Cpl. Joshua Leary, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, assists the Helicopter Support Team with a sling load for a 1,300-pound generator during a night operation at Patrol Base Sheheban, Afghanistan, May 5. Photo by Sgt Michele Watson.

PATROL BASE SHEHEBAN, Afghanistan (May 12, 2012) — The calming shade of blue makes the water enticing under the intense Afghan sun, but the currents are relentless. When the Helmand River is too deep to ford while delivering supplies, the helicopter support team is called in.

As part of the helicopter support team at Forward Operating Base Whitehouse, Lance Cpls Thomas Beranek and Jacob Walter, landing support specialists, Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), had a mission to accomplish.

With Walter remaining at the FOB to receive the backload, Beranek set out to Patrol Base Sheheban in support of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6. Because of the river, combat logistics patrols are sometimes an ineffective means of transportation.

"The motor transport section can't cross the Helmand River," said Beranek. "1/8 has a lot of little patrol bases throughout the area but the trucks can't travel across the river."

Upon arriving at the river bank, Beranek heaved his 200-pound pack full of the equipment needed for the HST onto his back and boarded a ferry with the rest of the Marines due to cross the river. Once across, the group patrolled on foot up a hill to PB Sheheban.

The purpose of the HST is to deliver gear and equipment to locations that combat logistics patrols cannot get to or to transport gear more expediently throughout the battle space.

"My mission is to support forward deployed units with ‘beans, bullets and bandages,'" said Walter.

Many of the HSTs the landing support Marines conduct are resupply efforts that send items like gear, food and mail to units at isolated locations. Occasionally, a patrol base will have trucks or equipment that must be returned to the FOB.

"Our job is important because we are getting [ground units] the supplies they need to continue the fight," said Beranek, 20, a Marshall, Texas, native. "We also support some of their retrograde missions."

At PB Sheheban, a 1,300 pound generator needed to be returned to FOB Whitehouse. As the drawdown of American troops continues throughout Afghanistan, forces are shifting throughout Helmand Province. This requires the return of the equipment that is no longer in use.

As dusk settled in, Beranek prepared a sling load for the generator and set up a tactical landing zone using chem lights in a nearby field. After dropping off two loads for the Marines and sailors at PB Sheheban, CH-53D helicopters hovered over the load and Beranek hooked up the generator for takeoff.

During the foot patrol, Beranek said he was able to see how much his resupply efforts affected the Marines and sailors at the forward edge of the battlesplace.

"It made me feel a lot better about my job to see how much it impacted the guys out there," said Beranek.

Whichever unit sends gear from FOB Whitehouse, whether it's an infantry unit, the chow hall or a combat logistics battalion, will palletize the items to send and the HST takes over for aerial transportation.

"I use a [Millennia Military Vehicle] to pick up the loads and stage them at the landing zone," said Cpl. Christopher Gregory, heavy equipment operator, Bravo Company, CLB-4, 1st MLG (Fwd). "On the build day, I get the nets and place them on the helo pad, and using the MMV I grab the different loads and put them on top of the nets so the LS Marines can build the net load."

The net has a cable attached to each corner and after the load is placed on it, the landing support Marines weave the cables through the net and secure them to a D-ring on top of the load.

"When the helicopter lifts the load, the [cables] cinch down and the load tightens up," said Walter, 21, an Apple River, Ill., native.

Not all items can be transported with the net load however, and for those special cases, a sling load is used to move larger items.

"We use the sling load to lift vehicles and any equipment that can't fit into the net," said Walter. "The loads can weigh 2,500 pounds all the way to 12,000."

In a nearby field at PB Sheheban, the receiving loads were dropped and the generator was air lifted away. The Marines loaded up a truck with the food and water that was dropped and returned to the safety of the patrol base.

"We just pray to God everyday that nothing is going to happen," said Beranek. "You go day-by-day and you just have to hit it head on."

 

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