WARRENTON, Ore. - "Line one on rappel," is the call of Soldiers and Airmen as they prepare to lower themselves down a vertical wall.
"Line one on belay," is the response from below, acknowledging readiness for the descent.
More that 200 Soldiers and Airmen from across the U.S. participated in the annual Air Assault course held at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon, May 26-June 9, 2017.
Air Assault-qualified Service Members are inserted into hard-to-reach areas where a small contingent is needed to conduct air-mobile operations. A Mobile Training Team (MTT) of instructors, from the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia, traveled to Oregon to facilitate the training. The two-week course consists of three phases in a crawl, walk, run process.
Phase 1 includes physical training and classroom instruction to familiarize trainees on aircraft, medical evacuation, combat assault and pathfinder operations.
"In the classroom, Soldiers learn aircraft operations including familiarization with different aircrafts, their assets, and their capabilities," said 1st Lt. James Sturges, executive officer assigned to the MTT for the air assault, pathfinder and rappel master courses.
Out of the classroom, the Soldiers are pushed to their physical limits. The "Day Zero" obstacle course is the first physical test service members must pass to stay in the course and continue with the training.
"We began with 266 Soldiers and had 60 drops the first day," Sturges said. "It's not about strength; they don't know techniques to negotiate the obstacle course."
Each obstacle must be completed according to the instructions given. Some obstacles have a no-fail requirement, meaning it must be completed in order to stay in the course.
"I prepared for this course for two months. I did a lot of running but not enough upper body strength training. Most of the people failed the rope climbing drill on the first day," said Oregon Army National Guard Cadet Sacha Tudela, a human resource specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 821st Troop Command Battalion, 82nd Brigade (Troop Command).
Physical challenges are only one part of the obstacles the students must overcome. Instructors say a positive mindset and determination to persevere are necessary to succeed in the course.
"During Phase 2 Soldiers must complete a timed 6-mile march while carrying a 35-pound ruck," said Sturges. "They also learn about sling loads and rigging inspection of loads suspended from the aircraft."
Wyoming Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer-2 Jason Hartley, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot assigned to C Company, 5th Battalion, 159th General Aviation Support Brigade, considered the short time frames to study for tests as the most difficult part if the course.
"Learning new skills and being pushed to the limits is the best part of the course," said Hartley.
Soldiers begin rappel training from a 70-foot tower to prepare for the culminating and final tests in Phase 3.
Utah Army National Guard Sgt. Christy Layne, a crew chief assigned to 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, in West Jordan, Utah, and one of the eleven women left in the course, felt that even though it is physically challenging, the course mentally tests your limits. Overcoming her fear of heights, she said, was the most challenging part of the course.
The end of the course consists of rappelling from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter 70-90 feet off the ground and completing a 12-mile, 35-pound ruck march in three hours.
Sturges said overall success depends on attention to detail; following instructions and doing exactly what they are told, and to be in the right uniform at the right time with everything on the packing list.
"High standards are expected; missing one item as small as a single sock will cause the Soldier to be sent home," Sturges explained.
Tudela said going through this course gives you confidence in yourself, "It's a mental game. I am stronger and tell myself, 'I am going to complete this.'"