FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - More than 200 National Guard members participated in the first Air Assault Course offered at Fort Indiantown Gap and facilitated by members of the Pennsylvania National Guard July 10-21, 2017.

Army Air Assault School is a 10-day course designed to prepare Soldiers for insertion, evacuation, and pathfinder missions that require the use of multipurpose transportation and assault helicopters.

"Air Assault is important because the Army is transitioning to a different fight with different enemies now, and with the capabilities we have now versus previous wars, giving Soldiers air access to the battle space is increasingly important," said Staff Sgt. Robert Rancher, an air assault instructor with the Warrior Training Center in Fort Benning, Ga.

Fort Indiantown Gap has begun hosting Air Assault courses to expand its offering of training courses and make Air Assault training more readily available in the Eastern Region. Only seven other military installations in the nation offer Air Assault courses.

The course took several years of planning by the training center explained Sgt. 1st Class William Lewis, range operations non-commissioned officer. "We're proud of the first graduating classes of students and we are excited for the increased training capabilities that the installation now has to offer," he said.

"I personally love this course. I love getting worked out, the PT is great and the instructors are knowledgeable and really trying to set us up for success. It means a lot that they're actually here for us and not just screaming at us the whole time," said Pvt. 1st Class Miranda Kurjack, a small wheel mechanic with the 55th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard and a Quakertown, Pa. native.

Both the instructors and students are National Guard members from across the nation, though most students are from the Pennsylvania National Guard. Pennsylvania National Guard personnel support the training with logistics, manpower, vehicles, and equipment. The Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site provided UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the final rappelling challenge.

Air Assault training focuses on the mastery of rappelling techniques and sling load procedures, skills that involve intense concentration and a commitment to safety and preparation.

"The most challenging thing for me as an instructor is that the course is very fast paced for the students and sometimes the Soldiers get overwhelmed," said Rancher.

"They have a very short time to learn a lot of material. As an instructor, you have to get the students to put everything else that's not an emergency out of their minds so they can focus here," he added.

Training is broken into three phases, each lasting three days: Combat Assault Phase, Sling Load Phase, and Rappel Phase. Cadets will perform a 12-mile ruck march on their final day of training, earning their wings as official Air Assault Soldiers, with a graduation ceremony the following day.

"I love the ruck marches, the running and everything, but this has been the longest nine days so far of my life," said Kurjack.

With the addition of the Air Assault course, Fort Indiantown Gap is building on its position as the busiest National Guard training center in the nation.