FORT BENNING, Ga., (Sept. 25, 2013) -- More than 180 Soldiers took to the skies Thursday, as the rappel exercise of the Warrior Training Center's Air Assault Course was held at Dickman Field.

During the exercise, students were tasked with rappelling from a UH-60 helicopter, something they had spent the past few days preparing for.

"The training really took effect once we got up there and saw how high the aircraft was," said Staff Sgt. Jamarcus Wilson of D Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. "The fact that we've rappelled for the last three days definitely helped. The training was great, but coming out here was an even better experience."
While the students said they were prepared, Wilson said the difference between the rappel towers and the aircraft was immense.

"You have the wind factor, and then you have the aircraft going left and right," Wilson said. "We were trained greatly by the WTC instructors, so all the training came into effect and we were able to rappel down safely."

Despite the difference, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Lee Mitchell of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, said the experience of rappelling from the helicopter was intense.

"The 'wow' factor kicked in," he said. "It was an experience that I'm going to encourage a lot of my Soldiers down the road to have so they can come out here and challenge themselves."

Staff Sgt. Derek Koth, an instructor for the course, said the students did a good job of paying attention to detail during the 10 days of instruction.

"They've been able to pick up the attention to detail, which is something we preach here at the school," Koth said. "They've been able to pick up all the numbers, nomenclatures and load capacities for slingloads and what we do with aircraft. They've been listening to what we tell them and have been holding the correct body positions and doing the correct rappels at the correct time. They've learned to lock in safely."

Koth said attention to detail was vital for the Soldiers during the rappel exercise, as proper technique is vital to ensuring a safe rappel.

"The biggest thing for the students is to be sure they get into a good 'L'-shaped position, which is exactly what we teach them on the training tower," Koth said. "We also want to make sure that they have their brake hand in the small of their back. A lot of times, they like to bring it around to the front or the side of them and they get into a position where they can't break and they keep going all the way down."

While a few students slipped while on the edge of the helicopter, Mitchell said that was a scenario the instructors had covered during training.

"When they gave us the UH-60 mockups, they let us know to make sure we had the right amount of rope and not too much because if you have too much in the guide hand positions, you can slip under it," Mitchell said. "So, they did make us aware of it."

The rappel from the UH-60 helicopters was the culmination of the rappelling phase of the course, with other phases including instruction on combat assault and slingload operations.

While the rappel phase was exciting for the Soldiers, Koth said the other phases may wind up being the most useful in combat scenarios.

"The thing that students more than likely will take away from here is not so much the rappelling, but a little bit of the Phase 1 where they're dealing with Medevac procedures because that's a lot of what they may be calling in overseas," Koth said. "The biggest facet they're going to take is in Phase 2 dealing with slingload operations, especially because in Afghanistan, the current operating environment has Soldiers up in the mountains where slingload operations are key."

In addition to the knowledge and skills Soldiers take back to their units, Mitchell said the course provided a challenge unlike any other.

"I just wanted to challenge myself," he said. "I've been in the Army 16 years and there's a lot of stuff I wanted to do as a young Soldier that I wasn't able to do. Now, I've got the opportunity working as a leader in support operations where I don't have Soldiers under me. So, I get a chance to come and try to better myself and make sure I've still got my Soldier skills."