SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – Whether gliding through the air up to 200 feet above the
ground suspended on a rope, or executing fast rope descents from a hovering UH-60 helicopter
onto a rooftop, Soldiers who attend the 25th Infantry Division’s Lightning Academy insertion
and extraction training stay ready to complete the mission anytime, anywhere, regardless of
The 25th Inf. Div.’s Lightning Academy’s Air Assault Instructors recently sharpened their
Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction System (FRIES) and Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction System
(SPIES) Master skills in order to stay vigilant while teaching how to insert and extract Soldiers in
the most restrictive and challenging terrain typical of the world’s jungles.
Lightning Academy serves as the U.S. Military’s Premier Jungle Training Venue and the
U.S. Army’s Premier Pacific Training Venue for local, regional and global partners. Its prime
‘jungle’ location in Oahu, Hawaii, allows Lightning Academy to prepare 25th Inf. Div. and all
other military partners and allies for the inevitabilities and rigors of jungle warfare, and the
unique challenges that come with operating in this type of terrain.
FRIES and SPIES training is crucial for adaptability when operating in jungle
environments because it is used to insert or extract Soldiers in locations unsuitable for a
helicopter to land, such as an area which is confined due to vegetation or obstacles. For the
25th Inf. Div., operating in Oahu, Hawaii, this is particularly applicable given the INDO-PACOM
AOR and Jungle-warfare focus involving densely vegetated tropical forests.
This four-day course “focuses on the techniques of Fast Rope Insertion and SPIES
extraction,” explains Staff Sgt. Calvin Clark, lightning academy FRIES/SPIES master course
instructor. “The course is designed to provide parent units with subject matter experts in the
full spectrum of FRIES/SPIES Master Duties,” and ensures they “are proficient upon graduation
on tower training, FRIES/SPIES sustainment training, and rotary wing operations.”
The Lightning Academy FRIES/SPIES Master Course is open to all Noncommissioned
Officers and Officers in the ranks of corporal to sergeant major, and lieutenant to major. There
is a maximum of 25 participants in each class, with six to seven classes offered per fiscal year.
INDO-PACOM personnel from all branches have priority for this course, but other installations
can also enroll if there is availability.
FRIES/SPIES Master Course Instructor Staff Sgt. Calvin Clark describes, “Students must
pass a written exam; display proficiency rappelling from the 40 foot Rappelling Tower (with and
without carrying a load) during both daytime and nighttime scenarios; pass a verbal exam of
FRIES/SPIES Master commands; rig an aircraft for both FRIES and SPIES operations correctly; rig
the primary and alternate SPIES harnesses correctly; commit no safety violations; and execute
day and night operations for FRIES (with and without carrying a load) and SPIES with aircraft.”
Graduates of FRIES/SPIES Masters Course are expected to perform Master duties at
their unit and ensure proper safety protocols are followed. This is why Lightning Academy
FRIES/SPIES Master Course Instructors are constantly training and enhancing their skills - to
ensure every graduate is properly equipped with the knowledge and attention to detail needed
to safety and diligently execute Master duties.
In 2016, the 25th Inf. Div. identified capability gaps to insert and extract Soldiers in
locations where landing zones are limited and restricted due to the dense jungle vegetation and
water obstacles. The Division determined an accredited course was needed to instruct and
certify FRIES and SPIES Masters to fill this capability gap. Units certified and capable of
executing FRIES/SPIES operations provide the 25 th Infantry Division enhanced mobility in jungle
environments, and the ability to compensate for a lack of suitable landing zones.
A real-world scenario in which FRIES/SPIES Master Courses are utilized is in terrain
inundated with water. “Helicopters cannot land in a swamp, lake, or ocean, but Soldiers can still
be inserted or extracted in these environments using FRIES/SPIES techniques,” 1 st Lt. Tommy
Maddox, lightning academy air assault school platoon leader. “Any scenario involving unusual
surfaces that limit the aircraft’s ability to land and deploy Soldiers such as an urban rooftop or a
rocking ship are examples where FRIES/SPIES techniques could be—and have been—executed
“Additionally, as taught in Lightning Academy’s Jungle Operations Training Course or
‘Jungle School’, tropical environments of all varieties always involve massive amounts of water.
The Jungle environment is inseparable from the water,” said Maddox. “FRIES/SPIES Operations
allow 25 th ID units the ability to overcome these vegetation, terrain and water obstacles as they
advance on enemy fronts or more importantly, insert and extract reconnaissance elements
gathering critical intelligence in remote locations.”
“FRIES/SPIES is a ‘gentlemen’s course,’ unlike Air Assault; therefore, a prospective
Student can expect a more patient and welcoming atmosphere from our highly trained cadre,”
said Clark. “Though attention to detail is important, this course achieves a 100% enrollment to
graduation rate nearly every class. Students should pay attention to everything the cadre
instruct, and pay special mind to safety requirements of FRIES/SPIES operation.” “This course
will truly get your adrenaline pumping. Once you know safety has been accomplished, it is okay
to have fun and enjoy the ride as you soar 200 feet above gulches and fast rope onto Schofield
For more information on all classes offered by 25th Inf. Div.’s Lightning Academy, visit