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10 years in Afghanistan: When roads are too dangerous, supplies are dropped in

By Matt Ford

Forward Operating Base Tillman in eastern Afghanistan is so rugged and remote that the only way to supply the base and its outposts is by air.

And when supplies get too big for Chinooks, that means parachutes.

 
You don't have to look farther than the mangled armored vehicles on the edge of the base to know why they've stopped running supply convoys through the sole accessible mountain pass.
 
To get food, water, and construction materials too bulky for Chinooks, the U.S. soldiers along with the Afghan National Army and Afghan police set up a security perimeter around a large field where the supplies parachuted in from a cargo plane.
 
I positioned myself halfway up the mountainside to get a wide shot of the drop zone.  As soon as the cargo plane flew overhead and the parachutes poured out, the soldiers started cursing the Air Force. 
 
Instead of landing in the drop zone, most of the palettes glided down on top of us and into the deep gullies and hills nearby.
 
I fixed my camera on the chutes, captivated by the way they moved in the wind like a brood of jellyfish, when I felt the sun disappear.  I called out to a nearby medic to watch above me.  He told me to move up the hill.
 
As we reached the crest, three palettes were directly overhead. We broke into a run along the ridge, turning back to gauge if we were headed in the right direction until the last palette landed.
 
The base, in Pakitka province, near the Pakistan border,  is named for Patrick Tillman, the former NFL star turned soldier who was killed by friendly fire in the same eastern mountains.

It may have seemed a slight miscalculation in approach or wind direction, but the scattered drop meant that what should have taken only a few hours would now force the soldiers to work until sundown to retrieve the supplies. Once it gets dark, they can't afford to let materials fall into the wrong hands, so they use thermal grenades to destroy whatever is left.

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