By Abigail MeyerAugust 29, 2016
FORT BLISS, Texas -- At the base of the Fort Bliss Air Assault School rappel tower, hundreds of rucksacks are lined up in neat rows.
Students sit patiently awaiting instruction. Groups of two pass by, always jogging, repeating 'Air Assault!' in unison, over and over. This is a training environment that fosters discipline and attention to detail.
"It's not only mentally challenging, it's very physically challenging as well," said Sgt. 1st Class Jose Ramirez, noncommissioned officer in charge, Fort Bliss Air Assault School, Iron Training Detachment, 1st Armored Division.
"We have a lot of exams, a lot of data that they have to keep up with … It's also a very condensed course. A lot of information's being given to the students in a matter of days, and they have to be tested in the next day or so."
Standing in line, students waited for their turn down the tower. It was day seven of the 12-day course. With arms folded, they made their way to the edge, reciting the mantra to the cadre, "Right hand, brake hand." (Descending the ropes, students use their right hand to "brake.")
Students start the course by walking down the wall and, by the end of it, they will exit an airborne helicopter, rappelling to the ground.
"Safety is one of the biggest things," Ramirez explained. "We do emphasize (the mantras) later on when we're going out of the aircraft or while they're doing anything with dangerous equipment. … We try to instill it in their brain so it becomes natural instinct."
Any Soldier can attend the course, with the permission of their command. This cycle, the course is attended by 36 students from various units outside of Fort Bliss -- Soldiers from active duty, National Guard, Reserve and three Airmen.
"They're learning the fundamentals of air assault operations, moving equipment and personnel, also as an attack force," Ramirez said.
"They'll know every helicopter used in the Army arsenal, the capabilities in the Army and how they can use it for each of those, either to transport equipment or for any support as far as attack is concerned."
The course is physically and mentally demanding. To graduate, students must complete an obstacle course, a two-mile run, a six-mile march, then a 12-mil foot march, and two hand written tests, one on hand and arm signals and another an inspection with the sling loads.
Student Sgt. Maj. Jamie Price said he was glad to be back with Soldiers after graduating from the Army Sergeants Major Academy here at Fort Bliss in June.
"I'm motivated every day because, with your peers, it's a lot different than it is with a lot more junior Soldiers and junior officers," said Price, who is en route to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for his next duty assignment.
Soldiers shouldn't attend the course on a whim, according to Capt. Jacqlyn Tsao, assigned to Indianapolis Recruiting Battalion, Indiana. She knew what she was getting herself into and highly recommends preparing beforehand.
"Definitely be physically fit coming in here," she said. "It doesn't matter how fit you are, if you've never used that muscle group before you're not going to be able to do it. Ruck march as much as possible."
Soldiers conquered the rappel tower and the descent from Black Hawk helicopters, adding a new skillset to their repertoire and a new badge for their uniform. The most recent course graduated 174 students Aug. 24, 2016.
Air Assault School is held once a quarter. The Iron Training Detachment plans to hold a Rappel Master Course in October. You must be air assault qualified to attend.