SOUTHWEST ASIA — Around noon, while many Soldiers are taking a break from the day’s work, Army riggers with the 421st Quartermaster Company are still hard at work in the 105-degree heat and the sweltering humidity at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
In and around a dusty, dimly-lit clamshell tent, more than 20 Soldiers are working on multiple tasks using many different pieces of equipment. Inside the tent, a group of Soldiers are tying off webbing and inspecting bundles while another group is cleaning up excess material.
Outside, a group of Soldiers is organizing bundles of parachutes while others are using forklifts to move completed bundles in and out of the tent. The scene looks chaotic, but is surprisingly organized.
“The Soldiers are constantly working,” said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Davis, of Water Rapids, Ga., and the non-commissioned officer in charge of the 421st Rigger Detachment, an Army Reserve unit from Fort Valley, Ga.
“The Soldiers work long hours but they enjoy it. They don’t fuss. We are down here to do one thing — put stuff down range and we are not going to miss any mission at all.”
Over the last 11 months, riggers with the 421st, supporting the 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s sustainment operations, have prepped more than 10 million pounds of supplies to be dropped to remote regions. The number of aerial missions they have supplied exceeds 380 at last count and the supplies have been air dropped to Afghanistan and other countries in the Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“The mission the riggers do is vital,” said Capt. Phil Gryskewicz, of Franklin, Pa. and the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command support operations section field services officer in charge.
“The thing about aerial delivery is you can extend your footprint on the battlefield and Afghanistan is a perfect example of that.”
Afghanistan — landlocked, spread out, mountainous and with treacherous terrain, makes it a challenge to keep forces as far away from main bases as the enemy operates, explained Gryskewicz.
“Aerial delivery allows us to take the fight closer to the enemy and the riggers are a very important part of that.”
Since arriving at Al Udeid Air Base, these riggers have moved everything from food, laundry detergent and hand sanitizer to fuel, construction materials and other vital items Soldiers down range need.
The drops have mainly been to forward operating bases in Afghanistan. More than 20 forward operating bases, including an emergency resupply to a United Kingdom forward operating base, have received bundles prepared by the 421st, said Davis.
“They have most definitely done a great job with their mission ... recently they have been delivering a larger amount of supplies than the riggers at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan and Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.”
To accomplish this tremendous task, the riggers have worked as long as 60 days straight, for 10 to 12 hours a day, in heat that has climbed to 130 degrees, in rain and in sandstorms, said Davis.
“They haven’t missed a mission yet and have yet to complain about the workload,” he added.
During the workday, the riggers take care of everything to prepare bundles for aerial delivery. The Soldiers build the bundles, tie off all of the webbing and straps, inspect them, load them onto trucks, transport them to the airfield, load them into the aircraft, hook them up and inspect them one final time, explained Davis.
To show riggers the importance of their mission, each Soldier was given the opportunity to fly with a delivery to its drop point, said Davis. The Soldiers seemed appreciative of the chance to see where the deliveries went.
“They got to see the process from start to finish. Now they have a broader picture of what they do. They realize that the stuff we are doing really affects people,” he said.
“The stuff we are doing may seem simple to us, but we play a big role in people being enablers and disablers down range,” said Davis. “That’s the biggest message I wanted to get through to my Soldiers.”
Nearing the end of their tour, riggers with the 421st still place the mission first.
“We’ve still got a mission and I’ve got 23 other guys to worry about,” said Davis. “We left with 24 and are gonna get home with 24.”