July 1, 2018 —
Although the first combat use of the parachute was at the end of World War I, U.S. military use of the device began in World War II, when the Army frequently used parachutes to insert troops and equipment into enemy territory in Europe. Ever since, the U.S. military has used parachutes as one option to deliver warfighters and materiel.
Popular culture is peppered with mentions of parachute packers, but military personnel at Defense Logistics Agency Distribution
do much more than that — they also test, maintain and ship parachutes and other materials daily.
“It’s not just parachutes; it’s sewing canvas bags or the deployment bags that the parachutes come in, or replacing lines,” said Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Rosenkranz, the noncommissioned officer in charge of DLA Distribution’s Aerial Delivery Textile Support Active section in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. “The primary mission here at our building is to inspect and classify all the Federal Supply Class 1670 materiel,” he said, referring to the supply class that covers parachutes and all related equipment.
The Aerial Delivery Textile Support has four areas: operations, pack, maintenance and receiving. With shipments of canopy fabric arriving twice daily, materials are continually flowing in and out of the distribution center to be processed, inventoried and packed. DLA Distribution stores thousands of parachutes in a climate-controlled area to prevent mold on the nylon material.
“We’re responsible for repairing textile and canvas material, webbed equipment and clothing, as well as inspecting, repairing and packing parachutes and other aerial delivery equipment,” Rosenkranz said. “We classify it, count it and then put the material into the Distribution Standard System.”
Then DSS records the data so the customers in the field can see it when they’re looking to place orders, he explained.
As parachute riggers, Rosenkranz said he and his team must be in exceptional physical condition.
“The job requires heavy lifting,” he said. “You also have to be qualified as a parachutist. Right out of basic training, we go to Fort Benning [Georgia] for airborne school to qualify as parachutists and then we’re formally trained at the Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department.”
The latter is one of five major training departments at the U.S. Army Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Guevara, NCO in charge of receiving at DLA Distribution, has only been part of the team since January. He said his primary challenge has been learning about all the FSC 1670 items DLA stores.
“In a regular unit, you’re just used to parachutes,” he said. “Here, you’re getting to look at a bigger picture and see exactly what we do — the logistical part of our job.”
Guevara said as soon as he arrives at work, he examines the inventory received into the shop.
“I inspect, I count and make sure we have the proper amount that’s on the paperwork,” he said. “I check the condition of it and make sure it’s 100 percent ready to go, and then I induct it into our system. Then we store it until it’s ordered.”
But it’s not all about inventorying, classifying and packing equipment. Rosenkranz and his team members must continue jumping throughout their careers as riggers so as to keep current on training and knowledge of the parachutes they’re packing for customers.
“By jumping, we are able to maintain all that currency and that skill,” Guevara said.
“To become certified parachute packers, we have to pack our own parachute and then jump with it; that’s our test to become packers,” Rosenkranz said.
Other FSC 1670 items include equipment for aerial pickup, delivery and recovery; cargo tie-down equipment; different types of fabric; platforms for heavy drops and bundles with container delivery systems.
“Our particular field of expertise allows us to manage the materiel that comes into the distribution center,” Rosenkranz said. “The efficiency [with which] we inspect, count and classify and induct into the system allows the warfighter more quickly order that materiel.”
Any customer who needs parachutes or related materiel is a customer of this DLA Distribution unit Rosenkranz explained.
“It’s not just people who use parachutes for jumping; it encompasses units that require materiel for air drop, sling load or textile components,” he said.
A sling load doesn’t require a parachute at all, Rosenkranz explained. “It’s just ropes and chains that connect to a helicopter that can pick things up from one area and take it to another.”
There are two primary kinds of parachutes: cargo and personnel. Cargo parachutes come in various sizes and are used to deliver supplies into areas where ground travel is impractical. There are also disposable parachutes that don’t require recovery and are often used to deliver food and supplies, as in humanitarian missions.
Personnel parachutes can either be deployed manually for high-altitude jumping or can use a static line to open as soon as the jumper exits an aircraft. Some personnel parachute systems are steerable and used for low-altitude drops. Nonmaneuverable canopies are used for higher altitudes that require a targeted drop.
Items come in as brand-new, wholesale new, procurement or as returns from the field, Rosenkranz said. Personnel parachutes returned by a unit are classified with a disposal code indicating whether the item is to be destroyed or repaired.
Since lives are literally on the line, the team will only repair parachutes DLA has tracked through their lifecycle, Rosenkranz said. Otherwise, “[if] it’s been out of our control, we can’t guarantee how long it’s been used, what it’s been through. So we can’t say that it’s good for another unit to buy and put it on another jumper’s back.”
Rosenkranz and his team are liaisons between item managers of the materiel and the field.
“If there are issues in the field where people are having problems getting things, we may be able to affect that change at our level as far as reaching out and figuring out why a unit is having trouble ordering a certain item,” Rosenkranz said. “That’s a big thing that we do around here — not only process the materiel, but also [use] our network of experts and respond quickly to customer concerns.”
“If we don’t do our job, then the units don’t get their materiel — and all the other units will be ineffective to meet their mission,” Guevara said. “It’s crucial for us succeed at our mission here so that other units at the tactical level can succeed in their missions.”