By Luke WaackFebruary 13, 2009
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - Engineer Soldiers have a new role model.
Staff Sgt. Dusty Beam, Maneuver Support Center and Fort Leonard Wood Noncommissioned Officer Academy instructor, was one of only 10 graduates - out of a class of 46 - from the U.S. Army Pathfinder School at Fort Campbell, Ky., Jan. 30.
Pathfinder school is a three-week course in which students navigate on-foot, establish and operate a day-and-night helicopter landing zone, establish and operate all aspects of a parachute drop zone, conduct sling-load operations and provide air traffic control to airborne operations, according to the U.S. Army Infantry Web site. Students also participate in a three-day field training exercise as a member of a Pathfinder team.
"I never studied so much in my life. It was by far the hardest school I ever attended. I would wake up in the middle of the night and study. It's all closed book - no notes - and there are four or five long charts you have to remember - just about parachutes and the different types of drop zones," Beam said.
Not only did Beam graduate, but he did it on his first attempt.
"I think if you go with the right attitude, like, 'I'm not going to fail this,' I think you do better. There were guys in my class that said, 'this is my first time trying, so I'll get through Helicopter Landing Zones, and then I'll fail out and come back and try it again. But I knew 1st Sgt. (Robert) Reed's guidance was to go and graduate; there would be no second opportunity for me," Beam said.
He had tried many times to get accepted to the course, to no avail, but luck was with him this time.
"For my class, about 70 people showed up, and they only took 46, so I was pretty fortunate. I was stationed at Fort Campbell for three years and couldn't get into the class," Beam said.
Beam will now be the Engineer BNCOC subject matter expert when it comes to airspace management, said 1st Sgt. Robert Reed, NCOA Engineer BNCOC course chief.
"It's something our regiment has identified as a need. It will definitely make him a better squad leader and platoon sergeant, and then he'll be able to go out and mentor future leaders, and that's a benefit to the regiment," Reed said.
Beam will play an important role for transportation in any unit he is a part of, Reed said.
"One of the things that is essential on the battlefield is casualty evacuation operations. With that as an implied task, you have to be able to create a landing zone for a helicopter to come in and you have to be able to land that bird," Reed said.
Pathfinder qualification is rare in the Engineer Regiment, Reed said.
"Pathfinder School has a 20 percent graduation rate. His graduation is a testament to his ability to apply himself," Reed said.
"I've been in the Army 16 years (as an engineer), and I personally know three guys that are Pathfinder qualified. You'll find it if you go to Fort Bragg, N.C. or Fort Campbell, but that's not the bulk of the Army. The bulk of the engineer force is within heavy brigade combat teams and heavy engineer battalions; those guys never get access to those kinds of courses," Reed said.