Today we received supplies by airdrop. An airdrop is a means of sending materiel to a unit in a field environment by parachuting crates out of an airplane to a “drop zone” set up in advance by the unit receiving the supplies. (Materiel could be anything from lumber to vehicle parts to ammunition to food and water – in our case, it was food and water for our firebase.)
We set out a short distance from our FOB to a flat parcel of desert nearby. Part of an airdrop mission is securing a drop zone, to prevent anyone from taking your stuff after it drops out of the sky. We parked several HMMWVs to rope off a few acres of sand and brush, then placed a panel (an orange flag denoting the target for dropping parachutes) in the center. Then we waited for the plane.
Half an hour later, a C117 (a huge cargo plane) flew overhead, calling us on the radio to verify our drop zone. (Our radios can talk to aircraft when they are close by.) The plane flew off over a mountain ridge, then reappeared ten minutes later, dropping large parachutes from the rear door. We watched from the ground as the boxes came down and the parachutes opened up. The crates floated to the ground and landed near the center of our perimeter. It was an almost perfect drop.
We raced to the boxes – we wanted to get done with the recovery, since we had to get up very early in the morning to prepare, and we were ready for a break. Plus we wanted to get all the supplies before any local villagers showed up to try to get some “freebies” by running away with some of our food or water.
The ABP brought two of their pick-up trucks to help out. We shuttled cases of food and water from the drop zone to our FOB, where a contingent of Soldiers waited to carry the supplies to their appointed places. The ABP pickup trucks scurried back and forth carrying our crates, while tow HMMWVs lumbered back and forth with two trailers to carry more supplies. In the middle of this activity, several villagers appeared from the nearby mud houses, watching the event, hoping to carry off some forgotten item. A couple boys carried off a piece of plywood which came off one of the crates. The border police then chased them away, shooing the villagers back to a safe distance.
To date, we’ve received four or five airdrops, mostly for food and water. An airplane can carry and drop off more supplies in a shorter period of time than a helicopter, so airdrops are time-effective for the shipper (for us, though, an airdrop takes up much more time collecting the supplies and ferrying them back to our FOB than a helicopter stop does). We have seen small aircraft drop from a very low altitude to C117s which drop large parachutes from a few thousand feet above us. We have to be careful to watch the crates as they fall, because if a crate falls on a Soldier, even with a parachute, the weight would crush him. Everyone stays in their HMMWVs and waits until the last chute hits the ground. If a HMMWV driver sees a crate falling toward his vehicle, he drives away to keep the gunner in the turret from getting hit on the head.
Now, if we could only get them to airdrop our mail…!
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.