Michael's Dispatches

Body Bags & Speedballs


2011-07-31-110938-1000Body bag drag

16 August 2011
Zhary District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

The enemy is easily resupplied.  His arteries for food and water are shorter than snake legs.   He can buy or steal much of what he needs to fight.    We don’t steal food or materials from locals, so we must plan for constant resupply.

Day and night, around Afghanistan, supplies go out via ground convoys, fixed-wing aircraft, and parachute. This dispatch, however, is about “speedballs” delivered by helicopter.

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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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Roch Thornton · 9 years ago
    My cousin's boy in eastern A'stan back in 2006 said parachuted supplies often missed the DZ ... sometimes by miles. They had to hump out to get their resupply, then hump back. My defense contractor cousin was helping develop a "guided" parachute delivery system for supplies, which sounded like a great idea ... any sign of that in A'stan? In VN we typically were resupplied by truck ... at night in a firefight you had to make your ammo last or pray for a react force to reach you in time. So guys in my team humped a BOATload of ammo. Water you could get out of streams or wells, we all had dysentery anyway.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anne Rutherford · 9 years ago
    You scared me with this one Michael. Was wondering why you were showing men dragging body bags. You got my attention, but could use a litte less drama with the body bags please. By the way, I have book #75.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ben Simpson · 9 years ago
    Got to love a night time ammo dump.

    Michael, what have you heard about the 1-505 PIR over there. They are my boys and I'm over here worrying away.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leyla Najma · 9 years ago

    Thanks so much for the education and interesting aspects of war. I'm always amazed by what you write and the photos!


  • This commment is unpublished.
    Calvin · 9 years ago
    That is a WAR ZONE.People get hurt or killed and things get broken. Often. Yon does a good job of sanitizing and not including gratuitous images. But the reality of what is happening seems lost on you. The body bags were not for "drama". They are a very effective tool adapted for an essential mission. Your sensibilities notwithstanding.Plenty of resident drama in that whole deal. He need not embellish.

    Please remember that as you drink your daily latte and type away on your ipad.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    brenner · 9 years ago
    Great work and photography, I put a check in the mail for you today, I live in Largo. I also sent your web site to about 100 on my e-mail list and asked them to match my donations.

    Good luck

    I was there a long time ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John-Capt in ANG · 9 years ago
    Calvin, relax. Inhale slowly, exhale slower. Repeat.

    Jumping on a plane Saturday to SHAPE in Belgium and then a German transport to Kabul shortly thereafter. Sounds like things haven't started to wind down for the Fall yet.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sandra · 9 years ago
    I love creativity and adaptability. Great to see and hear a touch of the real life and the Armed Forces use of their brain in addition to brawn to get this delivery system so efficient. And the multi-use body bags were a great example of where there's a will there's a way.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    p galpin · 9 years ago
    You really capture the spirit of the place. Was there a long time ago as well w brenner above. Have sent care packages yearly to the SF guys there, but will send money to help you continue to bring the story. Am forwarding to my gang.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Violette · 9 years ago
    of body bags ! ! !
    Still the grim thought of a less luky return load .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ubikwitus · 9 years ago
    50 000 helo sorties since Jan 1. Busy boyz!

    Ever think that might be getting in the way of vict'ry, though? All that resupply necessity - imagine everybody carrying their own case of water for a day!

    The Talies need to eat, drink and shoot as well, they don't have helos so they have to use what's available and be careful where and what they shoot.

    I'm surprised nobody's targeting their logistics.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ubikwitus · 9 years ago
    Pic #7 - Leakage problem?

    I'd imagine having stuff 'bagged ready to go' could result is some bags of damaged or useless material. And wouldn't that be a bummer in a bad situation?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anne Rutherford · 9 years ago
    Sitting here in my closet of an office, I do as much as I can to support the soldiers. So I admit that the body bag lead in pulled at my emotions. I understand completely the innovativeness of this scene. I don't drink latte and I don't have an ipad. Thanks for whatever you do to support those in harms way.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Graeme · 9 years ago
    Your reporting is top notch....the pictures are state of the art---if you know Jean Cartier Bresson, and I suspect you do, you will leave him in the dust....fabulous wartime reporting---
    stay safe--you are doing our country a great service with your dispatches and real world account of what is going on--

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bruce Hinton · 9 years ago

    Thanks for all you give to us wherever else we may be.

    Those photos of their ammo supply once again remind me of the silly rules of "wahh". Probably M193, maybe they also get 855 or 995 for barrier work, if they're lucky.

    I care not for the FMJ rule by somebody in Switzerland.

    If our guys need to stop an attack, they should be able to stop it with near certainty; the BG could have a switch up his sleeve to his "special vest" under his man-dress, or to a wireless detonator...

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jay · 9 years ago
    [quote name="Bruce Hinton"]Michael,
    ...Probably M193, maybe they also get 855 or 995 for barrier work, if they're lucky.

    The tips are painted so it's no M193. However, they look more brown than green to me so not M55 (green tip). Maybe that's just the bright sun tho. Mystery ammo.

    Perhaps Mr. Yon could clarify what ammo you guys are getting?
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Chadbag · 8 years ago
      It looks like M855A1 enhanced performance round. http://www.army.mil/article/48657/evolution-of-the-m855a1-enhanced-performance-round/

      Replaced the normal green tip M855
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jay · 8 years ago
    The brown tipped round is for the M4. The M16 has a slightly different round.
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