GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – 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 on parachutes tumbled out the back, then gently floated to the ground, where they were collected by a six-man crew.
The whole operation took only seconds, but it saved hours of work and possibly protected soldiers’ lives.
The low-cost, low-altitude drop is a relatively new practice at Forward Operating Base Ghazni. Started in late May 2013, the drops deliver 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.
U.S. Army Sgt. Shane Jones, heavy wheeled vehicle operator, Company A, 10th Brigade Support Battalion, Cross Functional Team Warrior, 10th Mountain Division, guides 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 battling fatigue over the 12 to 13-hour drive from Bagram Air Field 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 said.
Organizing air deliveries is also faster and more efficient than convoy deliveries, said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Dan Szilagyi, Helicopter Landing Zone platoon leader, Company A, 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.
Also, the amount of cargo the planes deliver is more than twice the capacity of a helicopter sling load, he said. “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, but being one of only a handful of qualified pathfinders in his company, his command appointed him to it.
If it helps keep convoys off the road, he’s happy to help, 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.”