Spc. Mark VanGerpen
129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghani-stan – The plane came in low – no more than 100 feet off the runway.
As it approached, the back hatch opened, and the plane launched into a steep climb. Four crates with parachutes tumbled out the back and then gently floated to the ground, where they were collected by a crew of six Soldiers.
The whole operation took only seconds, but it not only saved hours of work, it possibly protected Soldiers’ lives.
The low-cost, low-altitude drop is a relatively new practice at Forward Operating Base Ghazni.
Since late May, planes have been delivering all kinds of supplies to the base in order to cut costs and keep ground-based convoys off the road and out of harm’s way.
Sgt. Shane Jones, heavy wheeled vehicle operator, A Company, 10th Brigade Support Battalion, Cross Functional Team Warrior, is responsible for guiding the flights in for the drops. To him, the benefits of air-delivered supplies are clear.
“It saves lives,” he said. “It takes Soldiers off the road.”
When supplies have to be delivered by land, convoys of Soldiers run the risk of hitting roadside bombs, rolling vehicles and are battling fatigue during the 12- to 13-hour drive from Bagram Airfield to Ghazni.
“It doesn’t matter who goes out, someone’s getting hit every day,” Jones said.
Delivering supplies by air cuts those risks out of the equation, he added.
Organizing air deliveries is also faster and more efficient than convoy deliveries, said 2nd Lt. Dan Szilagyi, a helicopter landing zone platoon leader with A Company, 10th BSB. Whereas a full convoy mission can take days, air deliveries can be ready within six hours, and they can fly to Ghazni every day.
Another benefit to using cargo planes instead of helicopter sling-load deliveries is that planes can deliver more than twice the amount of goods and equipment, he added.
“It’s more efficient and quicker (than helicopter delivery),” Szilagyi said. “A sling load can only carry two crates. The plane can carry five.”
Guiding the planes to the runway was not Jones’ primary job when he deployed.
However, because Jones is one of only a handful of qualified pathfinders in his company, his command appointed him to the job – one he’s happy to do if it helps keep convoys off the road, he said.
“I was happy they tapped me on the shoulder to do it,” Jones said. “I’m proud to support any way I can.”