FORT POLK, La. - A plastic bag floats mid-air down Interstate 49, near Fort Polk, La., where soldiers with 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, "Task Force Wings," are conducting exercises at the Joint Readiness Training Center. The bag hits a windshield and gently rolls off the vehicle with no harm done.
For an aircraft, however, small or lightweight items kicked up into the air can have potentially cataclysmic results. Rotary blades can become a high-powered slingshot for hard objects, such as a bolt, or become entangled with flexible items, like a plastic bag or string.
"Foreign object damage is a constant hazard to Army aircrew members and one that can increase the likelihood of accidents, possibly resulting in aircraft damage, injuries and fatalities," said Chris Tumble, a safety specialist from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness and Safety Center in Fort Rucker, Ala.
Foreign object debris, more commonly called FOD, is created from an endless variety of sources, including dropped parts, tools, trash, deteriorating pavement and other extraneous material that could interfere with aircraft operations.
Soldiers with TF Wings ensure the FOD is cleared every day prior to an aircraft coming in for fuel or arms.
Maintaining a FOD-free area is as important to aircrew safety as maintaining the aircraft itself.
"We know that if something happened to an aircraft, that is one less aircrew that could potentially save lives," said Staff Sgt. Heath Williams, a platoon sergeant for Company E, 4th Bn., 101st Avn. Regt.
Everybody in the unit must be on the lookout and take responsibility for removing FOD.
"FOD is everybody's business," said Tumble.
"We know we aren't the only ones who train on this field and the occasional trash or parts may be misplaced. This is why we take the time to do what we have to do to bring everyone and our equipment back home," said Williams. "We train to lead and lead to train. Hooah!"