Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. - "One minute" is yelled over the hum of the C-130's engine, symbolizing the amount of time away from the drop zone; one minute closer to earning the right to be known as U.S. Army Pathfinders.

As the C-130's back hatch begins to open and the internal darkness of the plane gives way to the cool breeze and light rain over Merrill Drop Zone, the jumpmaster yells "follow me" as he jumps out the C-130's back hatch followed by his squad of future pathfinders. This marks the beginning of the Mobile Training Team Pathfinder course's field training exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

With a graduation rate of less than 45 percent, 79 Soldiers of JBLM began the three week MTT Pathfinder course March 7, in anticipation of beating those odds.

"I had no idea what to expect when I started the course," said Spc. Jonathan Peace, C/38th (ABN) Long Range Surveillance Company. "Knowing that I'm coming up on promotion, I wanted to be able to lead my future squad or team from the front."

During the three weeks of training, the course provided the Soldiers with plenty of information on air traffic control, medical evacuation procedures, sling load operations, rigging and inspection techniques, selecting, establishing and operating a helicopter landing zone, pick up zone and drop zones, and how to compute air release points.

"I never had to remember so much in two days, turn around and take a test on that knowledge and then learn something else," said Sgt. Jonathan Everett, a Chino, Calif., native, team leader, C/38th LRS.

Everett, who graduated from airborne school and Ranger school, considered the Pathfinder course more mentally challenging and rewarding to those who think outside their comfort zone.

"We catered the FTX to more thinking outside the box, to think outside of doctrine, because the manuals have not been updated to fit the new mission the Army has," said Staff Sgt. Mike Patraw, MTT Instructor, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "We catered our training [for] the students to think like that and to show them a different way that would benefit the mission, the pilots and themselves."

As the final week approached, only 29 of the original 79 Soldiers remained. Those Soldiers began the third week by completing and passing the drop zone test, known as one of the hardest written exams in the military.

"The drop zone test is where we lose most of our students," said Master Sgt. Mark D. Dasch, non-commissioned officer in charge of the MTT Pathfinder course, HHC, 1st Battalion, 507th PIR. "To have all 29 students pass shows the dedication these Soldiers have. It gives me security on the future of the Pathfinder Corps."

With the 29 Soldiers completing all requirements to earn a Pathfinder badge they sit with anticipation at Nelson Recreation Center to feel the winged fiery torch badge pressed against their chest during graduation.

Feelings of accomplishment and relief float throughout the graduation ceremony, as the students of the MTT Pathfinder course understand that graduation is only the first step, in a future that would test the limits of their knowledge and strength learned during the course.

"The pathfinder gives our country a significant advantage over our enemies," said Command Sgt. Maj., Joseph M. Dallas, 2001 Pathfinder graduate, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. "It gives a unit a unique capability to perform airborne and air assault operations."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16