PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The Marines shield themselves from the buffeting winds of an Army CH-47 Chinnok’s whirling rotors. Although they are clad in flak jackets and Kevlar helmets, the gusts nevertheless punish them, hurling dirt and debris in their direction.
One Marine stands in the shadow of the hovering helicopter. With nimble fingers and an agility refined through experience, he hitches the pallet of cargo on which he stands to the aircraft.
The Marine leaps off the load and raises an arm to deflect the particles of dirt the helicopter’s rotors fling at him. Standing about 100 meters away from the aircraft, he looks on to where he stood minutes before. The helicopter elevates itself to a higher altitude, taking with it hundreds of pounds of supplies.
Marines of Combat Service Support Detachment-20 at Port-au-Prince’s International Airport perform these external lifts every Sunday. The cargo that the helicopter carried away, however, is not for any American military unit. The aircraft delivered its freight to French forces supporting Operation Secure Tomorrow’s Multi-National Interim Force in Haiti.
Marine Cpl. Justin W. Kestler, landing support specialist with CSSD-20, said it’s one way in which the United States military assists allied military forces of Combined Joint Task Force- Haiti.
Kestler and fellow Marines worked together to hook up 12 cargo pallets of water and Meals, Ready-to-Eat to the helicopter. He said the Chinook would then fly the cargo over to Cap-Haitien, where the French would receive the load.
Marine 2nd Lieutenant Robert Fairley, landing support platoon commander for CSSD-20, said much hard work and effort goes into external lifts like these.
Marines inspect the load that is to be airlifted, ensuring that the bird can carry that much weight, Fairley explained. The Marines also inspect the nets and slings used to carry the load, he continued.
One Marine approaches the hovering aircraft with a static wand used to ground the electricity the helicopter’s rotors produce. The other team members place the apex of the load on the hook hanging from the aircraft, thus securing it for airlift, Fairley added.
The platoon does these types of external lifts for the French on a weekly basis, he said.
“By utilizing the platoon, we can move cargo over any terrain in an expedient manner,” Fairley continued. “We’re not limited to the conditions of the available terrain.”
“These Marines are well-trained and can perform external helicopter hook-ups in a matter of minutes,” he added.
Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Daniels, transportation support detachment chief, said he also praises the Marines for the work they do.
“They do an outstanding job. They know what they have to do, and they go out and get the mission accomplished,” Daniels explained.
Daniels also said the United States delivers some of their cargo to the French because the French forces in Haiti do not have helicopters capable of performing external lifts.
“It’s the whole ‘one big team’ concept. They have to get re-supplied, so we’re happy to help them out,” he said.
Kestler stated that he enjoys working with and helping out the other countries.
“It helps us get to know the other nations and how they work,” he continued. “We all get along, and we’ve had no problems.”
Fairley said he believes his platoon is an invaluable asset to CJTF- Haiti.
“Our platoon is doing their part and working hard to support Operation Secure Tomorrow.”