News: Safety is key
Story by Cpl. Jonathan Lobre
KILN, Miss. - “I will be sure - always,” said Army Pvt. Nathan Dougherty, one of the more experienced parachute packers assigned to the 421st Quartermaster Company from Fort Valley, Georgia. “That motto is etched in the minds of all riggers from the very first day of Rigger School.”
According to Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Harris, senior tech of the 421st Quartermaster Company, “The motto is the most important thing you can learn in school. If you follow that, then safety always remains the number one priority, and that’s why in my 16 years with the unit we have not had any major accidents.”
Military personnel around the world depend on the specialized work performed by the Soldiers of the 421st Quartermaster Company. Established in 1959, today the 421st consists of about 60 riggers who live and train together, with safety being the number one priority.
Whether dropping needed supplies, such as MREs, water, gas, ammunition, or heavier cargo, such as tanks or trucks, or preparing parachutes for military personnel, the process of packing a parachute requires attention to detail, patience and skill.
Packing is monotonous, and accountability is stressed every step of the way. Riggers and inspectors must certify and sign a sheet at the end of every packing station once the chute is completely packed. Additionally a small booklet is signed and attached to one of the risers of every parachute system.
Further ensuring accountability, packers must get recertified every 90 days; inspectors every 180 days. The recertification process consists of correctly packing four parachutes consistently and jumping with the fifth chute.
“We thrive off a system of checks and balances,” said Army Sgt. Christopher Loveless, a former U.S. Marines infantryman. “The riggers pack the chutes, the in-processing inspectors inspect them, and the Jumpmasters conduct a final inspection.”
Safety is also built into the parachute systems by giving them a shelf life based on type and utility. The 421st Quartermaster Company uses a multitude of different parachutes depending on the mission. The chutes range from the steerable MC1-1 and MC-6, to the non-steerable T-10, to the free-fall MC-4. Additionally, the 421st employs the parachute G-12 for heavy cargo drops.
Through all the details of packing a parachute, the enormous responsibilities of each individual, and the behind-the-scenes work that gets done, one thing remains true among the riggers of the 421st Quartermaster Company: “I will be sure - always.”
“I live for my chute,” said Pvt. Dougherty as he wiped sweat from his brow. “Even though the inspector has nine rigger checks on my chute, it’s my life on the line and I have to be confident in my abilities.”
The 421st Quartermaster Company exemplifies trust, cohesiveness, morale and determination needed to fulfill its mission no matter the task.
“If you can fit it in the plane,” said Sgt. Loveless, “we can make it work.”