NEWS | May 19, 2008

JTF-Bravo moves materials for bridge building in Costa Rica

By Tech. Sgt. John Asselin Joint Task Force-Bravo public affairs

U.S. military members from Joint Task Force-Bravo recently helped volunteers, local residents and Peace Corps members build three bridges for remote villages in Costa Rica.

The 16 JTF-Bravo troops airlifted 184,000 pounds of bridge materials on 38 lifts through the rugged terrain of the Costa Rican mountains May 9-14. 

"Our main mission was to move bridge materials from a pick up site to the native areas mainly to build walking bridges across the rivers in the area," said Army Chief Warrant Officer Robert Streit, a pilot from the 1-228th Aviation Regiment.

Mr. Streit said the payloads of concrete, sand, rebar, planks and cable presented unique challenges.

"With a lot of the lot of this [payload], there was too much weight to put inside the aircraft, so almost everything we moved was external load," he said. "These guys (riggers) worked their tails off to get all these loads rigged up properly so we could slingload it safely off from the helicopter." 

Army Staff Sgt. David Hattan, one of the riggers responsible for safely hooking the loads up to the helicopters, said it took the experience of all people involved to get the slingloads rigged correctly. 

"All of these loads were nonstandard loads," he said. "There wasn't a manual for how to rig it. We had enough people who knew about slingloading, so we had enough collective knowledge to get it done safely. Between [Army Staff] Sergeant [Armando] Amado, myself and Captain [Jackey] Fortenberry, we put our collective education together and made the mission happen without losing a single load." 

The unique challenges didn't stop with rigging, according to Sergeant Amado. 

"The terrain around that area was so rugged that the pilots were definitely on their game -- they knew how to handle any kind of weather situation they were in," he said. "They had this small little area where they had to go in and out of just to make sure they got to the LZ [landing zone] properly."

"That's the tough thing about flying in the mountains ... you always have cloud cover on the top of the mountains," Mr. Streit said. "There were a few days where it started coming in where we had to get everything done quickly but safely before the weather got in." 

According to Captain Fortenberry, the officer in charge of the mission, the local Costa Ricans we're appreciative of the help provided by JTF-Bravo. 

"Whenever those helicopters came in and landed, there were swarms and swarms of people around to watch," he said. "The locals really appreciated what we did -- they were just so happy to get all the bridge materials moved to the different locations."