FORT CAMPBELL, KY, UNITED STATES
Story by Lt. Col. Karolyn McEwen
Private 2nd Class Melanie Rollings is content serving hot meals to troops out of a field feeding kitchen but when the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) asked if she wanted to join him on a helicopter ride, she jumped at the chance.
Little did she know, she would not actually be getting on the helicopter.
Rollings learned what she would really be doing at the dinner meal the night before.
The new Soldier said she was excited and only a little nervous, even when she learned she volunteered to dangle from a helicopter.
“I was told last night that I’m going to be doing SPIES, so dangling out of a helicopter,” said Rollings.
At the home of the 101st, Air Assault tactics and techniques are practiced and honed. A tactic used for inserting or extracting Soldiers in areas where a helicopter landing zone cannot be established is commonly referred to as SPIES, Special Patrol Insertion Extraction System.
In SPIES, a helicopter will drop a length of rope and hover overhead while ten Soldiers in harnesses connect to the rope and are lifted higher in the air as the helicopter moves the Soldiers to their new location and lowers them to the ground.
This month, the Air Assault division is conducting a 21-day field training exercise called Operation LETHAL EAGLE. Instructors from the Sabalauski Air Assault School and pilots from C Company, 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade provided SPIES and Landing/Pick Up Zone training for every battalion in the division.
Rollings, a U.S. Army culinary specialist (MOS 92G) from Fort Wayne, Indiana, joined the Army for the opportunities.
“I serve so that I can have the opportunities that come with it,” said Rollings. “This [SPIES] is a huge opportunity right here. I’m really excited for it. But also with my job there’s a lot of opportunities that come with it and I can take a lot from it, take a lot from the Army as well, schools, and so much more.”
The division cooks, like Rollings, prepared and served more than 100,000 hot meals to Soldiers during the first two weeks of LETHAL EAGLE.
Her favorite part of her job? “I get to put smiles on some people’s faces every single day when I’m serving hot chow because that is a huge morale booster for everyone who comes through. Seeing the smile on their face makes me happy,” said Rollings.
Her least favorite part? “The hours,” she said, still grinning.
As the sun rose into the skies on a chilly November morning, Rollings joined Maj. Gen. JP McGee, the division commander, Division Command Sgt. Maj. Veronica Knapp, and other members of the division command group on Bastogne Landing Zone at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Instructors from the Sabalauski Air Assault School gave a class on SPIES and helped Rollings and the others into their harnesses. Moments later, a UH-60 Blackhawk lifted the rope into the air and two by two, Rollings and the other nine Soldiers rose into the air.
The pilots flying the aircraft were from C Company., 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. Ten days into LETHAL EAGLE, pilots in the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade flew over 25 company air assaults and racked up more than 1,312 flight hours delivering 3,673 Soldiers, along with equipment and supplies, to units in the field.
After a quick turn around the training area, C. Company pilots delivered Rollings and the others back to Bastogne Landing Zone, lowering the rope bit by bit until each Soldier was on the ground.
For Rollings, what started as an ordinary, early morning, helping prepare breakfast for the troops, ended as a day she will remember for the rest of her career.