AD11 riggers prep chutes, train with Ugandans

Story and photos by Sgt. 1st Class Brock Jones

SOROTI, Uganda — U.S Army parachute riggers assigned to the 5th Quartermaster Detachment, 21st Special Troops Battalion, 21st Theater Sustainment Command out of Kaiserslautern and the Utah National Guard’s 197th Special Troops Company recently trained in Soroti, Uganda, with the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces in support of Atlas Drop 11.

Atlas Drop 11, an annual joint aerial delivery exercise sponsored by U.S. Army Africa, brought together U.S. service members with counterparts from the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces and was designed to enhance the readiness of both countries’ resupply and logistical capabilities. The two-week training from April 11 to 21 consisted of classroom instruction and a field training exercise. AD11 increased the capability of both UPDF and U.S. forces to resupply Soldiers operating in remote areas.

Soldiers are known for being outstanding improvisers, doing their jobs well even under less-than-perfect conditions. Making a mission happen no matter the resources available is a badge of honor for Soldiers of all specialties.

This group of riggers took the spirit of improvisation to heart in preparing parachutes for upcoming aerial resupply missions.

During the two-week exercise the riggers’ main role was to train with their Ugandan counterparts on various aerial delivery systems, more specifically, the low-cost, low-altitude copter box and free-drop box systems. Not only did they learn about the systems, they also had to devise ways to effectively rig parachutes to the systems and ensure the contents inside remained safe upon landing.

With all the proper equipment —tables, tension devices, weights —  rigging parachutes is a rigorous task. Prepping chutes in a dusty aircraft hangar in eastern Uganda on old desks and cardboard proved challenging for even the most experienced riggers.

This is where the spirit of improvisation came into play. They used whatever was there to ensure the successful completion of the mission. In the end, the chutes were packed on a makeshift packing table made of old desks with a concrete pillar there to stabilize the desks and act as a tie off to ensure proper tension.  Others used the pillars and cardboard. But in the end, all chutes were packed.

“Basically, what we had to do today was improvise,” said Sgt. Roger Montanez, a parachute rigger assigned to the 197th STC, UTARNG. “We had no packing tables; we had no packing weights. So we had to improvise to accomplish the mission. We set up cardboard to maintain parachute integrity, so we don’t compromise the parachute in any way.”

Sergeant Montanez, who has been rigging parachutes for 11 years, said that regardless of circumstances, a Soldier with a job to do has to get it done.

“We did everything we could to accomplish the mission the proper way, the safe way and the right way with what we have,” he said.

In addition, as is the case with all training opportunities, the riggers of AD 11 learned valuable lessons by having to pack parachutes in conditions they are not accustomed to.

“It’s an experience that betters me as a parachute rigger,” said Spc. Jordan Parr, a rigger assigned to the 197th STC.

In their first full day together as a team, the 19 riggers of AD11 — 11 Soldiers from Germany, seven from Utah and one from 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, Georgia National Guard — packed 36 T-10 parachutes for use during upcoming LCLA practice drops.

After a day of packing chutes, the riggers began training with their Ugandan People’s Defense Forces counterparts on how to prepare the aerial delivery systems. These resupply systems provide the UPDF and U.S. Army with the ability to resupply units operating far from usual resupply routes and means.

 “Everyone’s absorbing the knowledge really well,” said Sgt. Aaron DeHaven a rigger assigned to the 5th QM Det. “But for me personally, training with the UPDF has been very rewarding. I’ve learned a lot.”

Whether rigging under the most difficult working conditions or training with UPDF soldiers, the AD11 riggers have lived up to the motto they learn at rigger school: “I will be sure always.” Next week, when the cargo is kicked from the open doors of planes and helicopters above drop zones north of Soroti, and the cargo drifts safely to ground, everyone will know just how sure they were.