USAREUR Soldiers work to become Pathfinder qualified

by Staff Sgt. Michael J. Taylor
21st TSC Public Affairs

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — “All but war is training, and everything that everyone in the military does requires training,” said Sgt. Maj. John Buchanan, the 21st Theater Sustainment Command’s assistant chief of staff for operations, training and exercise sergeant major. The 21st TSC is headquartered in Kaiserslautern.

Soldiers stationed around Europe were subjects of intense training during the 21st Theater Sustainment Command-organized and sponsored Pathfinder Course, held April 16 to May 3 at the Camp Robertson training area here.

The course was organized to ensure Soldiers in units and positions that require pathfinder skills would receive the necessary training. Of the 60 Soldiers selected to attend, 22 made it to graduation.

“Pathfinder is one of the most challenging and mentally straining courses that the Army has,” said Buchanan, a native of Springfield, Ill. “It’s very tough; the washout rate is somewhere around 50 or 60 percent, so Soldiers have to be mentally ready for the challenge.”   

Army Pathfinders are Soldiers who are trained to provide navigational aid and advisory services to military aircraft in areas designated by supported unit commanders. Their secondary mission includes providing advice and limited aid to units planning air assault or airdrop operations. 

During the Pathfinder Course, students are instructed in aircraft orientation, aeromedical evacuation, close combat assault, ground to air communication procedures, control center operations, three phases of sling load operations, helicopter landing zone and pick-up zone operations and drop zone operations.

The sling load portion of the course is the only hands-on test in which students are tested on four of six loads taught. They must identify three out of four preparations and/or rigging deficiencies within two minutes per load to be successful. Statistically, most students fail this portion.   
“Obviously, we strive to have a 100 percent pass rate but unfortunately that’s just not the case,” said Sgt. 1st Class Charles A. Newman, a sling load instructor and operations non-commissioned officer for the Pathfinder School. “We fail the majority of personnel on the sling load operation portion of the course.”

In addition to 21st TSC units, Soldiers assigned to the 12th Cavalry Regiment, the Joint Multinational Training Command and the 173rd Infantry Brigade also attended.

“Pathfinder School is very difficult, but if you apply yourself you will make it,” said Sgt. Abdul M. Shuford, an allied trades specialist with the 391st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. “It is more on the technical side than other schools. You have more formulas, rules, regulations and specifics. To be safe you have to know a lot of things like drop zone altitudes, speeds and hookup procedures.”

In order for Soldiers to be selected to attend the Pathfinder Course, they had to either maintain or be projected for assignment to a pathfinder slot.

“Any time we can help enhance our Soldiers and give them the additional tools and skills needed to help them better prepare for the mission, then it’s always a satisfaction for the command and the leadership,” Buchanan said.