FORT DRUM, N.Y. –
The 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team needs food, fuel and ammunition to fight, which generally flow into the 427th Brigade Support Battalion, the logistics backbone of the brigade on the ground in trucks.
But if the roads get cut, then the supplies come by air and the Soldiers of the 427th spent four days learning how to collect and load airdropped supplies as part of their annual training at Fort Drum.
The Soldiers practiced retrieving and loading the standard packages known as a container delivery system or CDS, which the Air Force uses to pack and parachute in supplies to troops.
Their training culminated with an actual airdrop of supplies conducted by a C-130 assigned to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing.
"I use to do this a lot in the Airborne. But you don't see it a lot of the non-airborne units," said Maj. William Hofmann, the 427th Brigade Support Battalion executive officer.
"If the ground lines of communication are cut off, then that would be a situation where we could use the CDS," Hofmann explained.
When a unit is cut off from the road network, Air Force transports drop the CDS packages onto a designated drop zone where they are collected and transported to the units on the ground by the logistics Soldiers.
While this is a routine task in other support units, using the container delivery system was just recently added to the 427th's mission essential task list, Hofmann said.
Training towards the actual airdrop began on July 20. The unit conducted drills and dry runs to make sure the troops were prepared for the event. Many of the Soldiers were new to the battalion since the last time the unit conducted a CDS airdrop, two years ago, Hofmann said.
"We started with kind of a crawl phase followed by a couple of dry runs," Hofmann said. "Then, we started adding in more complexity like casualties and equipment breakdowns until we culminated with the actual drop from the aircraft."
Using all-terrain forklifts and flatbed trucks, the Soldiers drilled at collecting the pallets, loading them and transporting the supplies out of the drop zone.
While prepping for the event, some last-minute changes needed to be made.
Due to New York State's ongoing response to COVID-19, Hoffmann needed to pull Soldiers from across the battalion to find enough people to participate. Usually, more than 350 Soldiers strong, the 427th only had 73 Soldiers attend annual training this year. The other Soldiers had already used their military time in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
"This would strictly be an Alpha Company mission with maybe some medics attached and recovery assets," Hofmann said.
"But because we are so short this AT, this is a conglomerate of all of our companies. You have Headquarters Company doing the outer security, Alpha Company is doing the recovery piece, Bravo Company was our quick reaction force and Charlie Company was providing the medical support. Traditionally all four companies have never worked together on a mission like this," he explained.
To increase the complexity of the training and make it more realistic, Hofmann incorporated an attacking force into the exercise. Instead of simply retrieving the supplies unchallenged, the 427th Soldiers were tasked with simultaneously securing the drop zone, recovering the supplies, repelling an enemy attack and treating simulated casualties.
Culminating with an actual airdrop made the training better, Hofmann said.
"I reached out to the 109th, and we were fortunate enough to have them come out and do this for the first time in 2018," said Hofmann, a Manlius, New York resident. "Since then, we have been trying to do it every other year."
After drilling for three days, the actual airdrop on July 23 went well. After the C-130 roared overhead dropping ten packages, the logistic Soldiers moved out with tactical forklifts and trucks to retrieve the CDS containers and send the supplies on the road with little wasted effort.
Though often not seen as valuable as some of the other Army jobs, there is more to being a logistician then meets the eye, explained Hofmann. Keeping the combat units supplied takes a lot of skills.
"You get sold on infantry and combat arms, but look the diversity of jobs here. From operating heavy equipment to coordinating the actual CDS drop, there's a lot more into being a logistician than just turning wrenches," Hofmann said.
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on National Guard website.