JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
While many Logistics Readiness Squadrons often get labeled as “all-purpose squadrons” there is a small group of less than one percent of this U.S. Air Force community who get their wings in a specialty known as rigging.
Although these Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson 773d LRS airmen may be small in number they play a key role in the day-to-day training and missions being accomplished.
These combat mobility technicians, sometimes referred to as riggers, are responsible for packing parachutes and building cargo platforms to bring personnel and precious cargo down from the sky safely.
“While at JBER, our mission is supporting four stationary units in addition to exercises such as Red Flag 19-1, by providing specialized air drop training,” said Staff Sgt. Douglas Moye, a 773d LRS combat mobility technician supervisor. “We provide these units the ability to maintain their air drop qualifications through simulated, pre-built cargo platforms during scheduled trainings and drops.”
When air drop training occurs, these combat mobility technicians are also called upon to operate as malfunction officers at the drop zone.
“We have to be vigilant about watching the loads fall from the aircraft,” Moye said. “In the event there is a significant malfunction with one of the loads being dropped, we would have to secure the area and do an investigation if necessary.”
In addition to scouting the drop zone area during a training, technicians are also responsible to recover the loads and parachutes.
“After watching the drops fall, we inspect the parachute equipment first-hand, then we place them temporarily in packs until we can get them back for drying and proper repacking,” Moye said. “We start this process by first securing the parachute by disconnecting the center and riser extension lines, then we use a “cigar-type” roll of the parachute portion to make it easier to maneuver, then we braid the lines in a daisy-chain method and place them in their pack.”
Using specific packing methods helps them keep the parachutes from getting torn or ripped, insuring a better reusability rate of the valued equipment for years to come.
Aside from straightening out lines and rolling the canopy into a bag, a number of other details must be inspected before a parachute is ready for its next air-drop. A summarized checklist is followed once it’s done in the drying tower, Moye said this includes the following:
-- Stretch out the canopy.
-- Search for holes, tears and burns in the material.
-- Check for frayed and damaged suspension lines.
-- Inspect the pack tray, harness, risers and ripcords.
-- Check the parachute release device and clevis hardware, if applicable.
“Another one of our jobs is to do what is called ‘joint inspection,’” said Moye. “The main purpose of joint inspection is to insure the air worthiness of the cargo itself. When we build a cargo platform we are looking at many different aspects, things like; hazardous materials, whether it is correctly packaged and making sure the pallet is built properly for the aircraft type.”
Although there are many parallels relating to the responsibilities of joint inspection and packing parachutes, combat mobility technicians’ roles can vary greatly depending on what the mission calls for.
“When airmen come in to this field as combat mobility technicians they mainly get to see the aero delivery side of the mission,” said Tech. Sgt. Danielle Primas, the 773d LRS combat mobility flight noncommissioned officer in charge. “When my airmen get a chance to experience the aerial port side of what we do, they realize just how important their mission is and often reenlist when they see what is past packing parachutes.”
Technicians in this field are called upon often to deploy, with a local average of more than 20 times in a calendar year – ranging anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
“One of our biggest challenges personally and professionally is how often we deploy,” Moye said. “Whether we’re home or in a deployed environment, we have to maintain a posture of being ready at all times and must shift roles at a moment’s notice.”
When in-theater, combat mobility technicians often go to austere locations and set up aerial ports of debarkation where they don’t exist.
“Whether it’s personnel, heavy cargo or a container delivery system coming out of an aircraft, recipients are relying on those parachutes to save their lives in some way,” Primas said. “We are the last pair of eyes before the loadmaster, it is vital for us to get it right the first time. There is a lot we have to figure out on the fly and some of it is not written in black and white. Things can get complicated, quickly. We have to make sure the personnel, cargo and aircraft arrive safely every time.”