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Signal Battalion Soldiers Move From Mountaintop

By Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

MOSUL, Iraq, Jan. 8, 2004 – On a remote mountaintop in northern Iraq, 10 miles east of the town of Tallafar, soldiers are getting ready to leave their outpost and join fellow soldiers here, and they're doing it the way soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) have been doing it for years: by air.

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Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company and Bravo Company, 501st Signal Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), prepare to hook a humvee up to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The 501st slingloaded equipment from a remote outpost on top of a mountain in preparation for redeployment. Photo by Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Soldiers from the division's 501st Signal Battalion set up a retransmission site eight months ago on a mountain close to Highway 1 to boost communications between convoys and units' headquarters, said Sgt. Lyle Follmer, radio team chief.

The soldiers had to find the area with the best reception, and that area ended up being on a mountain that's almost inaccessible by driven vehicles, said Capt. Brian North, commander of the battalion's B Company.

Many convoys were coming under attack in ambushes and by improvised explosive devices. By setting up the site as an FM radio relay to extend the division's communications abilities, the soldiers were able to keep vital lines of communication open between soldiers on the road and reinforcements at bases, thereby saving lives.

"The attacks continued, but the deaths ceased," Follmer said. "Not another soldier has died since we've been out here."

After eight months of living on a barren, rocky mountain, the soldiers' mission ended, so they packed up and left. But leaving wasn't as easy as loading up the back of a humvee and driving away.

That's where two CH-47 Chinook helicopters came in. In three trips, using hooks attached to the helicopters' underbellies, the Chinooks were able to carry four humvees -- two with remote access units attached to them -- a generator, and fuel and water containers. Smaller items, such as a refrigerator, large-screen TV, air conditioning unit and boxes of field rations were loaded inside.

"(The Chinooks carried) everything the soldiers required to live up here for seven or eight months," North said.

A team of eight soldiers from the 501st arrived at the site the night before the move. They worked together to prepare and rig the loads for transportation. They had to place nets underneath all the heavy equipment and vehicles and make sure the ropes that would allow the loads to be carried by the helicopters -- called "sling legs" -- would be able to support the weight of the loads.

"It wasn't a hard job, because I had plenty of time and squared-away people to help me out," said Staff Sgt. David Burnam, extension section sergeant.

Soldiers hooked up the equipment using rings connected to the sling legs. The helicopters slowly lowered to within a few feet of the ground, allowing the soldiers to make the attachment as quickly as they could.

Once they arrived at the Mosul airfield, soldiers called line-of-sight operators signaled to the pilots where to release the loads and land.

"I pretty much ground-guide them in, just like you would a humvee," said Spc. Jason Cubero, line of sight operator team chief.

Once all the soldiers and equipment landed at the airfield, the operation was complete.

"This is one of those great things we get to do in an air assault division," North said. "There's (noncommissioned officers) taking charge, and soldiers doing their jobs."

The soldiers said that while they are satisfied with the job they've done in Iraq, they're ready to return to their friends and family.

"The mission's over, and we're getting ready to redeploy," Follmer said. "I've got loved ones to be with again."

(Army Spc. Joshua Hutcheson is assigned to 101st Airborne Division public affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSpc. Jason Cubelo, line-of-sight operator team chief, Bravo Company, 501st Signal Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), signals for incoming CH-47 Chinooks carrying humvees to move right as they approach to drop off their slingloads. The 501st slingloaded equipment from a remote outpost on top of a mountain as they prepare to redeploy. Photo by Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA  
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