Air Assault: Separating the weak from the strong

SCHWEINFURT, Germany ― In an effort to distinguish themselves from their peers, nearly 300 Soldiers and Airmen laced up their boots, packed their gear and headed to Camp Robertson training grounds here in hopes of becoming air assault qualified.

Service members from units all around Germany were present on Day One of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command coordinated course. Of the 286 service members who began with Air Assault Class 306-11, only 146 made it through the rigorous training.

“The course was both physically demanding and mind challenging,” said 1st Lt. Victor O. Mills, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, and the executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 18th Military Police Brigade. “There are so many things to learn and remember in such a short period of time. Plus you have to be in really good shape to meet the physical demands of the course.”

All the training was conducted by air assault qualified Soldier instructors from the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, at Fort Benning, Ga. The 10-day course consisted of three phases. During the first phase, the combat assault phase, the service members were introduced to the Army’s rotary wing aircraft, pathfinder hand and arm signals, helicopter landing zones and markings and areo-Medical Evacuation operations.

The second phase of the course was the sling load operations phase. During this phase the service members learned about standard sling load equipment, sling-load ground crew operations, and how to properly prepare, rig and inspect various pieces of military equipment.

The third and final phase of air assault training was the rappelling phase where students learned to tie the conventional hip rappel seat in less than 90 seconds, and how to properly hook themselves up to a set of rappel ropes in 15 seconds or less. They also conducted numerous rappels from a 55 foot tower and performed rappels from a UH60 Blackhawk from the altitude of 80 feet.

After enduring through the three phases, the service members still weren’t safe from being kicked out of the course. On their final day prior to graduation, they had to complete a 20 kilometer ruck-march in three hours, while caring 45 pounds of gear.

Throughout the course, the number of service members dwindled when they failed lessons taught by the instructors or engaged in an unsafe act. But the majority of service members who were disqualified were dropped from the roster on day one during the obstacle course.   

“You could get sent home at any moment,” Mills said. “The hardest part of the course was just being prepared, because one false move could actually cost you your life when you’re repelling from an aircraft.”

“This course was definitely challenging,” said Spc. Kevin D. Repass, a native of Raleigh, N.C., and a motor transport operator with the 16th Sustainment Brigade. “They play some mind games with you and you have to stick together in order to make it through.”

Those who completed the training were greeted by more than 200 family members and peers who were invited to watch the Soldiers receive the prestigious air assault wings.

During the graduation ceremony, Command Sgt. Maj. James E. Spencer, the 21st TSC’s senior enlisted adviser to the commander, was the guest speaker. Although his speech was short, Spencer emphasized the legacy of air assault and how it was the Soldiers’ responsibility and honor to continue the tradition.

After addressing the class, Spencer then allowed the family members, leaders and peers of the graduating class to move forward and pin the new air assault personnel.    

“It feels great and I feel like I accomplished a lot,” said Spc. Michael A. Perez-Arce, a native of Lower Lake, Calif., and a military policeman with the 18th MP Brigade. “For once I actually have something on my uniform that sets me apart. Something I can say I was a part of and I displayed certain skills that helped me earn it.”

“After completing Air Assault School I feel like I can accomplish anything. Now my next challenge is to complete airborne school and after that I want to become a Ranger,” Perez-Arce said.