A U.S. Air Force cargo plane lumbers over the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains. On the ground, Army Lieutenant Colonel David Preston, bundled in cold-weather combat gear against the bitter wild, watches the plane approach. He radios up, confirming the target.
The cargo door opens as huge pallets shoot into the sky. Parachutes open and the supplies drift to earth. Troops on ATVs race across the frozen plateau to retrieve the precious cargo. It’s not ammunition or food – it’s jet fuel, used to run all the equipment at Forward Operating Base Waza K'wah.
Alert soldiers sweep the barren horizon with their rifle sights as others struggle to load the 500-pound fuel drums to tow away. They and their flammable cargo are now completely exposed to an enemy ambush.
But they must get that fuel. “This is the lifeblood for this combat outpost here,” Preston explains. Without regular air drops, his soldiers can’t stay warm, use their vehicles, or run the generators that power their communications gear. Convoys used to bring the fuel by road, but the treacherous mountain roads made them more vulnerable to attack.
“If fuel ran out here,” he tells us, “they’d be sitting ducks.”