This summer I attended U.S. Army Air Assault School at the National Guard Warrior Training Center in Fort Benning Georgia. I arrived at Fort Benning a few days early along with fellow Clemson Cadet John Dunn. Two days later in-processing began and Cadet Dunn and I learned we would be joined by First Lieutenant Cooler, a Clemson Alumni.
At roughly 0330 the next morning “Zero Day” began. This day consisted of being yelled at, smoke sessions, a two mile run under 18 minutes, and the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained nine obstacles and students were required to perform exercises while rotating between obstacles. After completing Zero Day the class was given its Phase One briefing and dismissed for the rest of the day.
Phase One lasted three days and was a combination of physical training and classroom instruction. During this phase the class received briefings on aircraft orientation, aircraft safety, aircraft hand and arm signals, MEDEVAC operations, Air Assault operations, and an introduction to Pathfinder operations. The physical training involved Cadre led PT sessions, a six mile road march, and a four mile formation run. At the end of the phase the class was given a written examination and a practical examination of aircraft hand and arm signals. Once testing was completed the class immediately began Phase Two.
Phase Two lasted two days and was the most academically demanding phase of the course. This phase focused entirely on sling load operations. The phase began with two short classroom briefings and then the class was moved outside where we learned the detailed process of preparing, inspecting, and conducting a sling load operation. The class was taught six different load types and then spent the next two days perfecting the inspection sequence of each load. At the end of the Phase the class was given a written examination and practical examination. The practical examination required students to inspect four randomly selected sling loads with two minutes to locate three out of four deficiencies per load. Once the examination was completed the class was given equipment and a briefing for Phase Three.
The third and final phase was also the most fun. The entire phase focused on rappelling. At the start of the phase the class was instructed on how tie a proper Swiss Seat. We then moved on to ground training which involved how to hook up, have a proper body position, and going over various cadre commands such as locking in and falling drills. Once ground training was completed, you moved to the slant wall which gave you a better idea of how the rappel would feel. Finally you moved to the 64 foot tower and began your five practice rappels. These involved three Hollywood rappels with no gear from the wall and open wall sides, semi-combat loads with a rifle and LBV, and full combat loads adding a rucksack. The next day the class began testing. You were required to tie a Swiss Seat in less than ninety seconds, hook up for your rappel in less than fifteen seconds, and had to complete three graded rappels. The phase was concluded with one final rappel out of a UH-60 Blackhawk. After the aircraft rappel we returned our Phase Three gear and began to practice for graduation.
On the final day the class began with a very early twelve mile road march with step off around 0330. After the road march, a final equipment layout and inspection was conducted, and graduation took place later that morning. It was a good feeling to finally have my wings pinned on by my dad and to have officially graduated Air Assault School!
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