CAMP GRUBER, Okla. -- Army and Air National Guard members from all over the nation tackle three elite Army schools throughout May, held at the Oklahoma National Guard's premier training area, Camp Gruber Training Center (CGTC), near Braggs, Oklahoma.

Cadre, or "Black Hats," from the Army National Guard (ARNG) Warrior Training Center, headquartered out of Fort Benning, Georgia, travelled to CGTC to train hundreds of Soldiers and Airmen in Air Assault, Rappel Master, and Pathfinder.

The trainers are part of a Mobile Training Team (MTT), who travel around the country to solely train National Guard members at locations that can facilitate school requirements. This focus gives Guardsmen additional opportunities to successfully complete the schools and thus create a mission-ready and combat-effective Guard force.

Without the appropriate facilities, however, there can be no training. Within the past year, CGTC replaced their obstacle course, rappel tower, and added a new slant rappelling wall, giving these Soldiers and Airmen a first-run on the equipment.

"Camp Gruber recently invested a great deal of money and energy," said Staff Sgt. Thomas Presutti, MTT's phase three chief for Air Assault. "They have this brand new tower that isn't even a month old."
According to Presutti, this Air Assault cycle saw a much lower attrition rate than usual. With more than 250 Guardsmen, by day nine, or "jump day", nearly 200 were left.

The challenging ten-day Air Assault course produces Guard members capable of undergoing high-intensity situations by preparing them both mentally and physically. Students must complete a multitude of tasks, including the obstacle course, sling load operations, rappelling from a 34-foot tower and two rappels from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovering at 70-90 feet, all culminating with a 12-mile ruck march in full gear in less than three hours.

"It's been pretty difficult at times," said Sgt. Jake Bailey, an Oklahoma Guard Air Assault student who just rappelled out of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for the first time. "There is a lot of information you have to learn in a short period of time."

Upon completion, graduates are awarded the Air Assault Badge and the "2B" Additional Skill Identifier (ASI). Graduates are also able to attend Rappel Master school, a five-day course which produces qualified Rappel Master Personnel Inspection Soldiers and Airmen.

Trekking through another area of CGTC were Pathfinder students. Their three-week course consists of navigating cross-country on foot, establishing and operating a day and night helicopter landing and parachute drop zones, sling load operations, air traffic control and navigational assistance within an operational site control zone, and aircraft rappelling.

The highly competitive course tests the mental and physical fortitude of each trainee. Once trained, each pathfinder's primary mission is to infiltrate areas and set-up parachute drop zones and helicopter landing zones for airborne and air assault missions.

As navigational experts, the role of a pathfinder is essential to a combat-ready force. Each pathfinder helps spearhead resupply, medical evacuation, sling load operations and many more missions throughout training and combat operations by living their motto "First In, Last Out".

Upon completion, graduates attain the "F7" ASI and are awarded the Pathfinder Badge, signifying their role to "Light the Way" for airborne and air assault forces following behind.

Slots for each course are coveted positions that Guard members typically have to compete against active-duty members to attend. With the MTT from the ARNG's WTC supporting solely National Guardsmen at CGTC, Soldiers and Airmen are better able to attend and bring their skills back to their home states.

"It's absolutely my favorite thing ever," Presutti said. "It's very rewarding. When you teach a class and people succeed at what they do, you have a good feeling."

It has been several years since CGTC was able to host these competitive schools, and now with its new and upgraded facilities, the training center will continue to host the courses for years to come.