SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
There are few guarantees in life, but for the Army riggers stationed at Joint Task Force-Bravo anything short of their own personal guarantee in their line of work is simply not acceptable.
The parachute rigging facility at JTF-Bravo is a small shop with only two Army trained riggers stationed here. While the shop may be small, the amount of experience behind the parachute experts certainly isn't - with 32 ½ years between Staff Sgts. David Hattan and Armando Amado.
Since the shop is small, that experience is a necessity for the mission to be a success at JTF-Bravo. The riggers are responsible for all things delivered by a parachute, whether it is a person making his first jump or a container delivery system full of MREs along with the maintenance of the parachute. The shop is also charged with setting up all sling-load missions the helicopters carry here, said Sergeant Hattan, JTF-Bravo Rigger NCOIC.
That experience is also key for the mission to be so successful here at JTF-Bravo, said Capt. Jackey Fortenberry.
"For example when we helped transport bridge materials into Costa Rica earlier in the year it was the rigger's experience that allowed us to properly sling load more than 184,000 pounds of equipment on 34 loads," Capt. Fortenberry said. "There simply isn't a book out there that will tell you how to do it. We simply couldn't do it without their experience."
With an important mission and limited manpower, sometimes the job can be taxing on the two riggers.
"It's definitely a demanding job with the limited resources we have," Sergeant Hattan said. "The job requires us to have two qualified riggers with each parachute we pack, so if one of us is unable to be there that parachute can't be packed."
It's the nature of the mission that requires two people to pack each parachute, as one person packs it the other will inspect the work to make sure it will function properly, Sergeant Hattan said.
"If a person ever jumps with one of our parachutes they will know it will always be looked at by both of us," said Sergeant Amado, a deployed rigger instructor from Fort Lee, Va.
The checks don't end there though. In addition to the seven checks the riggers personally make on the parachute, four other checks are made. Once before it is placed in storage, another when the jumper receives the parachute, the jump master then inspects the parachute, and then finally the jumper inspects it one last time before leaving the aircraft, Sergeant Hattan said.
Because the rigger's job requires them to have parachutes that work for the jumpers, it's not just good enough for them to say it's good to go, it actually has to have their personal guarantee, Sergeant Amado said.
Besides maintaining and packing the parachutes, the riggers also have another responsibility. They have to be able to jump with those parachutes.
"At any time our commander can come in and point to one of our parachutes in storage and tell us to jump with this one," Sergeant Amado said. "I can't tell him 'I don't want to because that's not my parachute.' It's my responsibility to personally ensure the quality of the work. So if you jump with one of my parachutes you can know that I would have no problem putting that one on my self."
The willingness to jump with any of the parachutes they pack can certainly ease the fears of a first time jumper. Sergeant Amado said he will sometimes jump with a parachute that was previously damaged just to prove to those jumping that when they repair the parachute, it still functions.
The attention to detail and multiple function checks has made jumping out of an aircraft a rather safe venture.
"We have a 99.99 percent success rate with our parachutes," Sergeant Amado said. "There is always going to be a small risk associated with jumping, but there is always a reserve parachute that has just a good chance as the main chute or working perfectly fine."
Sergeants Hattan and Amado won't just tell you the parachutes work, they'll guarantee it with their lives.