A helicopter hovered above the field at South Dock where The Sabalauski Air Assault School (TSAAS) from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, conducted training. Meanwhile, the trainees watched a sling load with all of their belongings leaving the ground. The tactical movement was a demonstration before the cadets completed the exercise themselves, but the tension was palpable as they watched the pilot take their belongings for a loop over the Hudson River. As promised, the sling load uneventfully landed back onto the field, their belongings safe and sound.
The action, however, was far from over. This was just the beginning of the day. The Air Assault instructors organized the trainees into orderly lines as they anxiously awaited their turn to prove that they have the knowledge and skill required of an Air Assault qualified Soldier.
The signal was given for the first team to run out toward the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to complete their mission. In a tight formation, with the smallest person in front, they grabbed the hook and waited as the helicopter slowly approached, hovering just above their heads. Crouched low, bracing themselves against the helicopter’s downwash, the moment nears.
Soon enough, the Black Hawk was just overhead. The team adjusted and relatively effortlessly hooked the sling load onto the helicopter. Success. The mad dash away from the helicopter ensued and the look of sheer excitement and relief was plastered on each face as they jumped the puddle of rainwater to reach safety.
Air Assault School at West Point, which happens every summer, is a 10-day course with approximately 180 trainees (cadets, faculty and members of the Summer Task Force) in each class. With six iterations, roughly 1,200 people become Air Assault qualified each summer at West Point. The course is rigorous: a six-mile march, training in combat assault, sling loads and rappelling, an obstacle course and a two-mile run.
On graduation day, the cadets, faculty and task force members complete a 12-mile ruck march before finally earning their wings as Air Assault Soldiers — so long as they are not dropped beforehand for failing inspections or any of the above components.
Class of 2022 Cadet Brenna Bulman said that the trainees must “have certain items on a packing list on them at all times ... if someone doesn’t have an item at that time, they can get dropped for that as well.”
That item can be as basic as a singular pen. By design, the course is both physically and mentally challenging.
“Attention to detail. That’s the key to success for the remainder of the 10 days,” 1st Lt. Christian Polak, TSAAS executive officer, said.
Polak explained that the course builds both mental and physical toughness, as well as specific skills that will make Soldiers effective combat multipliers and successful in any career path they pursue.
Capt. Romedy Murr, Department of Military Instruction and TSAAS officer-in-charge at West Point, emphasized the importance of the course when he added that “Air Assault School teaches qualities that all officers in every branch need.”
Murr stressed the weight that the Air Assault badge holds as an indicator that the Soldier has passed the rigorous testing and ensures that they embody the qualities that the Air Assault School instills in the trainees.
As cadet leaders now reflect on their experiences during Air Assault training, Class of 2022 Cadet Nick Isenhower, TSAAS cadet captain, and Bulman, TSAAS cadet command sergeant major, shared their appreciation for being able to see the behind the scenesʼ inner workings of the course.
Isenhower noted that as a trainee, it can be hard to see the bigger picture, but from his position now as a cadet leader, he can see how even the smallest detail impacts the learning objectives of the course.
Air Assault training is grueling, with early wake-up calls, rigorous inspections, and high expectations for performance, but the benefits of being Air Assault qualified far outweigh the challenges that the trainees encounter.
Graduates of The Sabalauski Air Assault School leave with a skillset that will benefit them no matter where they go. The pride and sense of accomplishment on the faces of the successful teams as they returned back to the group after completing their sling load was clear — the hard work pays off.