The Navy’s Special Warfare Boat Operators (SB) are essential to Navy SEAL operations because so many operational areas and combat zones are found in littoral environments, a situation that is somewhat complicated by the need for rapid deployment and response. A SEAL Team might need to river access to reach an objective, for instance, but rivers can of course be many miles away from coastal regions. How do you get both the SEAL Team members and the Special Warfare Boats needed to traverse the river in a timely fashion?

The solution is the Maritime External Air Transportation System, or MEATS, which takes advantage of the heavy lifting capabilities and relatively high airspeed of the Army’s CH-47 Chinook to lift and rapidly transport the 11-meter Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats and the 10-meter Special Operations Craft-Riverine to appropriate insertion points. (MEATS of course can also be used for extraction.) The Chinook hovers over the craft being operated by SB Sailors, who rig it to the bottom of the helicopter with a series of slings before climbing into the chopper via a rope ladder. Like the cartoon images of a stork carrying a baby, the Chinook flies with the craft underneath to the point where it needs to be placed back in the water with the SB Sailors onboard.

It's a system that not only greatly increases the distances that Special Warfare Combat-Craft Crewmen (SWCC) can travel inland, but also gives them the ability to quickly bypass any unexpected obstructions they might encounter once they’re navigating a waterway.

For a SWCC to take part in the MEATS, however, requires qualification, which means they take a turn at each of the four stations aboard the craft—forward and aft poles, signalman, and coxswain—that are necessary for rigging the boat to the helo, and what’s more they must rotate through these stations as the helicopter hovers above them. Sailors working the pole must rig the slings to the underbelly of the helicopter; the signalman communicates with the boat crew and the team aboard the chopper using hand signals. The coxswain keeps the boat positioned directly under the helicopter, moving it in relation to the whirlybird.

It is truly an impressive sight to behold, and stylized versions of the system can be seen in the movies Act of Valor and Apocalypse Now.

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