By Spc. James Bradford, 372nd MPAD May 23, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Select Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division started their day early May 20, as the 2014 Week of the Eagles Best Air Assault Soldier Competition was set in motion.
The competition lasted approximately 12 hours, beginning at 3:30 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m. Soldiers completed seven events in two-person teams. For each event, teams had to start and finish within one arm's length of their teammate.
"When you think of Fort Campbell, you think of Air Assault," said Sgt. 1st Class William McBride, the chief instructor at The Sabalauski Air Assault School. "We here are the foundation for the Air Assault nation."
The first event was the 12-mile road march. In this event, Soldiers were required to carry an assault pack full of items commonly needed on a real mission, including a change of clothes, canteens for water and a set of gloves for rappelling/fast roping.
First Lt. Scott Oplinger, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team executive officer and member of the first place team, said the road march was difficult due to it starting so early in the morning.
Competitors were then checked to make sure they had everything they would need for the day. This was one of the short moments Soldiers had to recuperate before their next event, the obstacle course.
"They go from one event, to another event, to another event," said McBride. "There's not a lot of time to rest your body or your mind."
Your body has to be prepared when you come here, because, if not, you won't be able to conduct the obstacle course, the 12-mile foot march or any of the other physically demanding events, McBride added.
The competition was about more than just physical fitness. Competitors were tested on their memory of everything taught to Soldiers who go TSAAS. This accounted for the next three events: the written exam, rappelling knowledge and inspecting sling loads.
"The written test was really tough, especially if it's been a long time since you've been out of Air Assault School," said 1st Lt. James Kromhout, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team executive officer and member of the 2nd place team.
Competitors were then taken to the aero-medical event. In this event, participants were tested from beginning to end of a casualty incident. Competitors had to assess an injury, call in a nine-line medical evacuation, load the 200 pound casualty onto a litter and carry them 360 meters to a Black Hawk helicopter for a simulated medevac.
"When our heart rate is up and our adrenaline is pumping, because of our combat experience we are able to focus on the specific skill sets and tasks that need to be done," said Capt. Aaron Lax, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team squadron fire support officer and member of the 3rd place team.
The final event was the Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction System course. In this event, competitors donned full combat equipment and boarded a UH-60 M model Black Hawk. They were then flown for approximately three minutes to an objective where they fast roped down to a 180-pound litter. The team was then split so one Soldier would drag the litter 250 meters and the other Soldier would carry it the remaining 250 meters. Once the full 500 meter drag had been completed, the team had a 100 meter sprint where, once again, they had to finish together.
"It's a great combination event, because you start out very mentally engaged, and then all of a sudden you have to change gears and run," said Kromhout. "It does a great job at recreating combat and I liked it a lot."
"It's a perfect way to have that last gut check," said Staff Sgt. James Tucker, pathfinder branch chief instructor at TSAAS.
"I'm really proud of all who came out," Tucker added. "It really speaks about themselves and their units."
The winning teams were as follows:
1st place -- 1st Lt. Scott Oplinger and 1st Lt. Michael White of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
2nd place -- 1st Lt. James Kromhout and Spc. Anthony Hendrix of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
3rd place -- Capt. Kyle Payne and Capt. Aaron Lax of 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team