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Body Bags & Speedballs


In the deserts of Afghanistan water is crucial; and our people shoot a lot of ammo.  The consequences of running out of water or ammunition are roughly equal.  Ideally, in combat it’s better to do fewer resupply runs with more supplies per run.  Fewer missions reduces stress on helicopter resources, and means fewer landings in hostile areas, mitigating risks.  Frequent resupply also can allow troops to travel light.

2011-07-31-110939-1000Speedball delivery on 31 July 2011 during Operation Flintlock

During a recent mission, we received a very large resupply of ammunition, batteries, water, and other necessities via CH-47 helicopter, which flew in at night, practically blowing us away, because it landed so close to where some of us were trying to sleep.  The resupply worked for that night and brought enough food and water for several days.  But the very next day, several platoons in different locations were engaged in a series of firefights, leaving them low on ammo.  And so the call went out for emergency resupply in the form of “speedballs.”


Speedballs are small, ad hoc resupply packages that are dropped off by helicopter.  These are not sling-loads that might weigh ten-tons or more, but man-portable packages.


Fighting units often pre-package speedballs.  Body bags are a wrapper of choice because they are tough and easy to hand-carry.  Units sometimes number or code the packages so when a commander calls from the field, he can simply say, “I need a #1, and three #2s.”  The crew grabs the numbered speedballs and loads them into a helicopter.  Sometimes helicopters don’t bother landing for a delivery. They just hover and toss the packages.

2011-07-31-111313-2-1000Blackhawk Delivery during nearby fighting

These speedballs were simple: water and ammo.  You won’t get milk, or mail this way.  This is, undoubtedly, one of the most urgent and rarefied parcel delivery services in the world.   No customs declarations, no prohibitions against shipping plastic explosives or hand grenades, and if someone tries to prevent delivery, he may get shot.


The Soldiers took the ammo and started filling magazines.


When it absolutely positively has to get there or you might get overrun and killed: Call Speedball-express

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Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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