Distribution’s airborne riggers: Support on the ground and in the air

By Jessica Roman DLA Distribution Public Affairs

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Among the boxes, air pallets, and trucks at Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Susquehanna, Pa., there is a unique team tucked in the midst: DLA’s only parachute rigger unit.  The team’s set of responsibilities is unlike any other; not only do they provide mission receiving support like other distribution centers, they also provide parachute pack and maintenance activities for units across all military services.

“We’re different than normal rigger units,” said Army Staff Sgt. David Lewis, one of the parachute riggers assigned to the group.  “We all have a unique set of qualifications, and have to understand warehouse operations in addition to being current and qualified parachute riggers.”

In the unit’s warehouse operation, parachutes are inducted and stored for units across the Department of Defense.  The team utilizes the Distribution Standard System; DLA Distribution’s warehousing system that links all distribution centers together.  “We are able to see items first-hand before they arrive with the unit,” said Lewis.  “We are used to seeing it on the line – it’s a unique experience to see and inspect them very closely here.”

The warehousing operation holds all types of airborne equipment – everything from personal parachutes to cargo parachutes to lines, elastic cord, and other parachute repair parts.  “We have to learn about all the service branches and their requirements, not just the Army,” said Lewis.  “It’s a great experience to help us become well-rounded as soldiers; we have to get out of the Army mindset, and into the DoD mindset.”

When items come into the unit for storage, the group inspects for condition code and quantity, and inducts them.  If the items have been used, the team determines if they are reusable or repairable, or if they should be slated for disposal.  Department of Defense regulations mandate that parachute items must be inspected by qualified parachute riggers, although the unit works very closely with the four DLA warehousemen assigned to the operation.

In addition to the four employees, the unit is made up of seven Army non-commissioned officers and one chief warrant officer, who all work together to accomplish the team’s mission.  “We are very lucky to have our civilian counterparts working with us,” said Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Davenport, the parachute pack non-commissioned officer in charge.  “We pull and learn from them, and many of our teammates have invaluable experience to share with us.  They are the constant, and pull this team together when military members rotate out.”

Because of the life-saving nature of the equipment, if a parachute is available for reuse, it goes through a rigorous inspection process.  The riggers inspect the parachute for cuts, tears, burns, frays, or missing parts before certifying it fit to be used again.  The G-11 cargo parachute has 120 suspension lines to hold the container through the drop process – and every line must be inspected by qualified riggers to ensure the parachute is in serviceable condition.

Each rigger understands what it takes to inspect a parachute – they must be willing to jump with any of the parachutes they pack and maintain.  “We are the one and only DLA parachute riggers,” said Davenport.  “If you can multitask, you belong here.”

The riggers work with the local Air National Guard 193rd Wing unit to complete both static line and free fall jumps from C130 aircrafts to maintain their jump currency.  The unit also works with Rotary Wing Aviation from Ft. Indiantown Gap to jump from the CH47 Chinook aircraft, where they are able to complete both static and free fall jumps on the same day using multiple passes.  In addition to performing the jumps, the riggers also execute jumpmaster duties on the ground at the drop zone.

Static line jumps are the common jump a parachutist would see in a combat situation, where large amounts of warfighters jump together from an aircraft.  Each warfighter passes a static line to the jumpmaster before exiting the aircraft.  The static line is connected to the apex of the parachute, and after exiting the aircraft, the static line pulls the deployment bag out of the pack tray.  As the parachutist falls towards the ground, the static line and the parachute become fully extended, breaking the tie the holds the two together, inflating the parachute automatically.  Free fall jumps do not involve the line, and the warfighter simply jumps out of the aircraft and deploys their own parachute.

“I Will Be Sure Always” is the last line of the airborne riggers creed.  DLA Distribution Susquehanna’s riggers safeguard and care for each and every parachute as the one they would be jumping with, ensuring the safety of every soldier until their feet touch the ground.