Hang em' high!

Capt. Russell Craig
First published in
SFOR Informer#135, March 28, 2002

Members of the theatre's American Special Forces (SF) in BiH trained their support team (ST) on the Special Platform for Infiltration and Extraction (SPIE), using Black Hawk helicopters March 8.

Mount Igman - The usual way to travel by helicopter, is inside the aircraft, not attached to a rope swinging from its underside, this was, however, what members of the SF ST did.
"It (SPIE) is part of a toolbox. We need to know how to utilise it. It is used for extraction from water…and from jungles - to extract from deep canopy - when there are no other suitable landing sites," said American Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Hackett, one of the SPIE instructors.
Hackett was quick to stress, however, that the method was not normally used for an emergency extraction, as the process leaves the helicopter vulnerable to enemy fire.

The training on this day, nevertheless, had more wide-ranging objectives. American Maj. Nathan Banks, J1, explained that it allowed the ST to participate in activities that they had only heard about, gain a better understanding of their mission and, "get some enjoyment and fun - a day away from the office and desk."
The training included briefings, dry runs, and checks by instructors, before the troops were strapped onto the rope for the flight.

"I'm really excited about doing this, but, at the moment the fear factor is at its highest. Like any good soldier, however, I will carry out the mission," said Banks.
American Capt. Allan Barall, intelligence officer, said that he was excited about participating in the SPIE training, as his ironic nickname, 'Direct Action Al' refers to his desk-bound job.
"I've jumped from planes but I’ve never done this (type of training) before, I feel fine, not at all nervous," said Barall.

The test
The instructors had the ST practice putting on their harnesses before the Black Hawk arrived so that they could gain confidence in their equipment, but once it landed on Mount Igman, it was time to put it to the test. A white rope (approximately 200 feet long) was hooked to the underside of the helicopter. There were 20 silver hooks on the rope, 10 on each side, enough for 10 passengers. The four-point harnesses that the soldiers wore had two hooks: one for the main strap and one for the reserve.

Once the soldiers were harnessed and hooked in place, the helicopter climbed, then sped off, the soldiers below rushing over forests, ski runs and mountains. All they had to do was orient themselves (using their outstretched arms) to get the best view, and enjoy the sensation of cutting through the cold mountain air.
The pilots of Task Force Pegasus (See SFOR Informer No 132, Feb. 14) ensured that the soldiers below were carried safely.
"It's (the rope and people) an external load, like hauling a HUMVEE, but you have different feelings, because it is people. They are a lot more important than a HUMVEE," said American Chief Warrant Officer Joe Puckett, pilot.
Puckett explained that, standard operating procedures, good flying and the crew chief's keen eyes ensured their passengers' safety.

"I enjoyed it. I wasn't scared. I thought I'd get nervous, but I didn't at all. Flying over the ski slope and ski jump - that was fabulous, " said Barall.
"It was awesome, great…better than I imagined, I would do it again in a heartbeat," said American Sgt. 1st Class David Eve.
For American Staff Sgt. Carie Mihill, the day was extra special, as she had just re-enlisted in the Air Force for another six years. Mihill said that such days made it worth re-enlisting and that the SPIE training was a "Once in a lifetime experience."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
Training and Exercises

Click on thumbnail to enlarge
Photos: PO Steve Wood

The chalk commander gives the thumbs up for take-off.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Staff Sgt Carrie Mihill waits to take off; for her it is a good day to have re-enlisted on.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge

SF soldiers monitored the proceedings, ensuring that safety aspects were covered and encouraging the excited passengers.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Members of the American Special Forces (SF) Support team prepare to take to the air with pilots from Task Force Pegasus. SF soldiers oversee safety aspects.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Members of the American Special Forces (SF) Support team rise upward attached to the Special Platform for Insertion and Extraction.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Back on firm ground again.