By Tech Sgt. Emily F. Alley
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Almost every pallet that travels on a C-130 through Kandahar Airfield is touched by two Airmen: Staff Sgt. William McKandless and Staff Sgt. Steven Smith, who are joint airdrop inspectors with the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. The two inspectors approve bundles and ensure they are properly built and secured within the aircraft.
Soldiers, often the ones who build the bundles, are not always aware of how a pallet needs to balance the aircraft, or how it will be fastened to avoid shifting during flight.
“There’s a big difference between the Army and the Air Force,” said Sergeant Smith. “But we help them understand, and we work well together.”
The Airmen have been working hard and inspecting millions of pounds of cargo that have left the airfield a handful of airframes, in addition to C-130s, in the past few months. McKandless and Smith helped shatter the airfield airdrop record in January when they delivered about two million pounds of supplies that consisted of food, fuel and even building materials. McKandless estimates two thousand pallets were dropped that month.
“These guys crawled over every single bundle,” said Maj. Jason Sanderson, a pilot who worked with the airdrop inspectors during January. While other locations, such as Bagram, had larger volume, the workload was spread over more inspectors. “It’s safe to say those two inspected more than any two Airmen in Afghanistan at that time.”
“That’s the fun thing,” added Sergeant Smith. “It’s all a blur.”
The most memorable drops, he described, aren’t a matter of quantity.
He vividly recalls the emergency deliveries, many last-minute, that bring supplies to warriors one the ground. One group of soldiers was so low on fuel they couldn’t even drive to pick up their delivery. They physically hand-rolled fuel barrels from the drop site back to their camp.
On emergency airdrops, timing can be as important as the supplies themselves. Once, the inspectors were loading a C-130 and found maintenance problems. The aircraft was unloaded and all the pallets were moved to a new plane within thirty minutes.
“It was insane,” added Sergeant Smith, who said it may traditionally take 48 hours to plan an airdrop. “They got from planning to execution in three hours.”
“I know the guys on the ground are getting what they need,” Smith concluded. “If it doesn’t drop, they’ll be hungry, thirsty. They can’t just go to the store and get food.”
To deliver the supplies, the inspectors work with a constant stream of aircraft. Often, their work days are fragmented because availability of planes and demand for supplies dictate a work schedule.
In the free time they do have, the inspectors count sleeping as a hobby. Smith said he will also read letters from his family.
“I packed a Play Station on the assumption I’d have a day off,” Sergeant McKandless recalled the day he was told about his deployment to Kandahar- he had 48 hours notice. “I think I’ve had two days off since December.”
He may not have played many video games, but he got to work with real soldiers instead.