FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division (LI) walked away from 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment's hangar with the coveted Pathfinder badge Aug. 18 after successfully completing the three-week-long Pathfinder Mobile Training Team course at Fort Drum and the division's first airborne operation in more than a decade.
The Pathfinder MTT course, instructed by members of 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment from Fort Benning, Ga., began Aug. 1, hosted by F Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
According to Capt. Alexander Sinclair, F Company commander, this was the first Pathfinder MTT course held by F Company, and it will be its last due to the company's pending inactivation in October -- a result of the Army's plan to restructure its force.
Nonetheless, Sinclair said he is grateful to have been given the opportunity to host such an event.
"Having been a recent Path-finder graduate myself, I got to see what it takes to put the course together and what it entails on the instructor's side," Sinclair said. "It gives you a deeper sense of appreciation for the coordination pieces of logistics and personnel."
The 18-day course was broken down into five major blocks of instruction with a total of six exams. Week one focused on the fundamentals of sling load operations; week two, the students were taught how to establish and operate helicopter landing zones and drop zones, and week three, the students were evaluated on their new skills during a field training exercise that included having qualified paratroopers jump from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
Capt. Lindol Adkisson, a Path-finder student from F Company, admitted that the hardest part for him during the course was the drop zone written exam.
"The test is composed of six sections and covers every applicable rule for multiple types of equipment and/or personnel and multiple types of aircraft," Adkisson said. "I believe this section dropped the most number of students in the course."
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Crawford, F Company platoon sergeant, agreed with Adkisson.
"The drop zone exam, as well as the sling load exam, tend to get the majority of failures," he said. "Then again, the MTT course as a whole is a lot more difficult than going down to Fort Benning to do the resident course because of the distractions that are presented. You still go home to your Family or the barracks every day with a lot of study material and all the distractions are there, as opposed to going back to a room and hitting the books without anything interrupting you."
Nonetheless, Sinclair said the benefits of having the MTT course at Fort Drum outweigh sending Soldiers to the resident course.
"In the resident course, we only get so many slots for our Soldiers," Sinclair said. "Having the Pathfinder MTT travel up here enables our unit to increase their number of Pathfinder-qualified Soldiers exponentially."
"At the end of the day, it's all about being combat-ready," he added. "Readiness is our No. 1 priority, and what we're doing in this course is giving agile leaders the right skill set in order to win in a complex world."
According to 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Pathfinders are an elite force that make up less than one percent of the total Army. Their primary mission is to infiltrate areas and set up parachute drop zones and helicopter landing zones for airborne and air-assault missions.
The rigorous mental challenges expected of a Pathfinder explain why the course started with 51 students, and that number quickly dwindled after nine students failed the sling load exam during week one and the other 12 were dropped during weeks two and three.
"Attention to detail is key to passing this course," Crawford said. "As a Pathfinder, you're not only dealing with heavy and costly equipment, but also the lives of your brothers and sisters to your left and right. They depend on us to get the job done right on the first try."
The newest 10th Mountain Division (LI) Pathfinders can now proudly wear the Pathfinder Torch and live by the motto of "First In, Last Out."