News: Troops endure strong winds during sling load training in Panama
Story by Sgt. Jeff Daniel
COLON, Panama – Soldiers covered their eyes as the approaching windstorm blew dust and grass around them. The tornado-like winds made them all turn away and crouch down. A brave few faced the wind as if they were waging a battle to see who was stronger.
Even though the 100 plus mph winds are strong and gusty, it was man-made. The UH-60L Black Hawk approached the spot where several soldiers were standing fearlessly to hook the pendant, called the Q-tip by the Army professionals, to the cargo hook of the low flying bird.
On April 6, about 40 Soldiers went through sling load training during U.S. Army South’s Beyond the Horizon training exercise in Panama.
Sling loading is a way to move large heavy objects by helicopter.
“This is huge on both the air side for the pilots and crew chiefs and for the ground side to those who can actually use this type of lifting capability,” said 1st Sgt. Kevin Mayo, a sling load training instructor.
Train as you fight has always been the Army’s way and that is exactly how the training is conducted. First, there is a class on how to place the sling set on different types of objects. The objects on this particular day included several canvas bundles, a water buffalo, and a Humvee.
“This is invaluable training for the pilots,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Carlberg, a standardization pilot with the 2/285th Aviation Helicopter Battalion, 98th Aviation Troop Command, Arizona National Guard. “It gives them (the pilots) the opportunity to check weights, aircraft limitations, and crew coordination. It is a required training skill set.”
Carlberg, from Phoenix, Ariz., explained that it provides a lot of training on situational awareness and staying focused on crew safety.
Sling load trainer, Sgt. Jose Herrera also with the 2/285th AHB, explained that usually sling load training for them is just picking up concrete blocks with the same “hook” team.
“This is the best type of training,” said Herrera. “We get different people and different types of loads. It’s rare that we get this many rotation opportunities to pick up loads.”
The soldiers on the ground who received the training feel the benefits as well.
“How many times do Army Reserve Soldiers get a chance to get hands on training like this,” said Spc. Michael Pennington, a carpentry and masonry specialist assigned to 1st Platoon, 284th Engineer Company, 961st Engineer Battalion, a reserve unit out of Seagoville, Texas.
Pennington described how terrifying it was to have a huge mass of metal lurking above you. “The nerves kick in, but you fall back on training,” he said. “It was unforgettable training.”
Tech. Sgt. Michael Taylor, a structural specialist with the 200th Rapid Engineer Deployed Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, 179th Fighter Wing, an Ohio Air National Guard Unit out of Port Clinton, Ohio, has his eyes on someday attending air assault school.
“The more familiar you are with this training, the better off you will be in school,” said Taylor.
Taylor said that the actual hooking of the pendant onto the cargo hook is “pretty intense.” He would encourage any young airmen to go through the training.
“I had no idea how powerful the winds would be (as the helicopter approached),” said Taylor.
Sergeant 1st Class Bruce Adams, a training and operations non-commissioned officer with the 284th Engineer Company, 961st Engineer Battalion, 420th Engineer Brigade, an Army Reserve Unit out of Seagoville, Texas, said that the training was very beneficial to the 17 Soldiers that attended from the 284th.
“I’m glad that we were afforded this training,” said Adams. “Sling loading is a bonus for us during the BTH exercise.”