LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE A C-130 aircrew delivered precision airdrops, helping Army soldiers sharpen their drop-zone security skills.
The most recent iteration of Green Flag Little Rock used a combat airlift to support the Army’s Pathfinder course.
The Pathfinder course is a multiservice advanced three-week course designed to teach military members how to establish and operate helicopter landing zones and drop zones in day and night operations. The course also helps hone skills in setup and preparations of sling loads, as well as in establishing and controlling all three major types of air drops: a verbally initiated release system, a ground-mark release system and computed air-release point zones.
“Today we had our students set up a GMRS (Global Mobility Readiness Squadron) drop zone; it’s the most tactically secure of all of our drop signals,”
said Tech. Sgt. Bertrand Fitzpatrick, a U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army Pathfinder School operations instructor. “It’s designed to allow personnel to mark the drop zone accordingly, to where there is almost no prior communication required with the aircraft.”
The only information the C-130 crew knew in the scenario was the location of the drop zone. There was no other communication between the ground and air.
A Team Little Rock C-130 flew over the designated release point and delivered a single bundle, which landed within 25 yards from the designated point of impact, making the drop a success.
“When you see an aircraft, especially when there’s little coordination between the ground troops and the plane, and it flies over and puts whatever the item is that they’re dropping — it lands within 25 yards of the designated point of impact — it’s awesome,” Fitzpatrick said. “It shows you the inherent capability of the joint force.”
One of the most difficult parts of the course is the sling-load, hands-on training and the drop zones. Sling-load training takes place in week 1 of the course, while drop zones are the last portion in week 3. In this, trainees are taught to properly rig various items for transport by helicopter, as well as inspect them. Inspecting is critical in making sure the plane is safe to fly. The trainees have three chances to pass the test.
“The inspection process is extremely rigorous. This is where we lose 20 to 30 percent of the class,” Fitzpatrick said.
Drop zones are the last portion of the course before beginning the field-training exercise. The drop-zone training contains the hardest academic challenges because there is so much data the trainees need to know and account for when directing a plane to drop cargo.
“This is the hardest course to get into for the Army since it’s the most academically challenging,” said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Jackson, a 1st Battalion 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment U.S. Army Pathfinder instructor. “Only 50 percent of the students graduate the course.”
The Pathfinder Class 703-15 course began with 55 students and graduated with only 22.
The 34th Combat Training Squadron conducts approximately six Green Flag Little Rock missions a year, four of which are mandatory.