BOURNE, Mass. –
“I am inherently scared of heights,” said Capt. William Gripp, 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Gripp was one of 208 Servicemembers to rappel from a helicopter hovering 80 feet in the air during the final phase of Air Assault School here, August 30, 2012. “The first time I went up I was terrified. The hardest part is getting hooked up and looking over the ledge to yell down to your belay man ... all your weight laying back on the ropes.”
Two hundred and forty six students arrived here with the hopes of earning the coveted Air Assault Badge when the course began on August 19. After ten days, 206 were proud to return to their units wearing the wings they worked so hard for.
“It’s a really good mix of physical and academic challenges,” said Cadet William Austin, Virginia Military Institute.”
Students were required to be proficient in both written and physical portions of the course. While some excelled in the obstacle course and foot marches, others had a chance to put their knowledge and skills to the test in the classroom.
“It’s tough, but the instructors work to help you in any way that they can,” said Austin.
The ten-day course was separated into three phases. Each phase consists of both classroom and field operations. Phase one was a three-day lesson about aircraft safety, air medical evacuation, pathfinder operations, hand and arm signals and close-combat operations.
Spc. Gregoire Adrian of Dorchester, emphasized that attention to detail was the number one most important aspect of this course.
“You have to be focused. The physical part can make you want to quit, you need the mental strength to keep you going,” said Adrian. “People are failing because they are not paying attention to the little things. If you don’t listen, you won’t make it!”
For the second phase of air assault, the students learned about sling loading. For many this was the most difficult and complicated phase of the course because every step is crucial and any mistakes could have fatal consequences.
“We learn how to rig and inspect different loads that can be carried externally on different helicopters,” said Gripp. “That’s really a big part of air assault; getting supplies from one set of troops to the other to make sure the mission is successful.”
Sgt. Kenneth Hicks, 84th Civil Support team from Wyoming explained that the course was very fast-paced. It was important that the students were able to retain information and have the ability to demonstrate what they learned very soon after.
“The challenge is going from crawl, walk, run in several different areas,” said Hicks. “You go from airborne operations to sling loading, and then right to rappelling in such a short time span.”
The rappelling phase is the final phase. “We actually get to jump out of a UH-60 Black Hawk,” said Gripp. “That’s a unique opportunity.”
The students worked off of a rolling point system. On day zero each student received 40 points. Each violation was assigned a point value that was subtracted from the original 40 and tracked throughout the course. A safety violation such as not having enough water in your canteen was minus ten. Failure to complete a required portion of the course can be up to a 40-point deduction. If any student lost all 40 points, they were immediately removed from the course and sent home.
“It takes drive. You have to be willing to put in the work to get through everything here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Wade, air assault noncommissioned officer in charge, Warrior Training Center, Bravo Company, Fort Benning, Georgia. “The way air assault works is you are set up for success as long as you listen and put the work in.”
Different states have sent their Soldiers and Airmen to the Air Assault School here primarily for the sling loading portion, which has been considered critical to successfully operate in combat zones.
“I go all around the world, and this is one of the best facilities I’ve been to,” said Wade.
Lt. Col. Eric Teegerstrom, Nebraska Army National Guard, has worked with units from around the world.
“Every time I’ve been with a group of New Englanders, I’ve absolutely had the greatest respect and admiration for them because they are always so professional,” said Teegerstrom. “I wouldn’t hesitate to work with them again.”
The students complete a12-mile foot march on their final day of Air Assault School. Those who completed the march in the allotted time were able to graduate and get their wings pinned the very same day.
“It’s a badge that when someone sees it on your chest, they know you’ve earned it,” said Wade. “They know you wanted to be a little bit better than average and you had to get up and go work for it.”