JOHNSTON, Iowa-- Two Kosovo Security Force members made history by becoming the first KSF soldiers to graduate from a U.S. Air Assault course Sept. 9, 2022, at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa.
Maj. Gen. Ben Corell, the Adjutant General of Iowa National Guard, along with representatives from the Des Moines Consulate of the Republic of Kosovo and senior KSF leadership, were present to congratulate Pvt. Sead Berisha, a psychological operations soldier, and Staff Sgt. Lorik Ramaj, a civilian affairs soldier, on earning their U.S. Air Assault badges. Sead and Ramaj stood at attention alongside U.S. Soldiers and Airmen as their mentors and loved ones pinned them with their “wings” on graduation day.
On the first day of the course, Berisha described feeling strange being in a different uniform from the U.S. service members surrounding him, but said that his fellow students were approachable and encouraging.
“It’s my first time in the U.S. and in Iowa, and I feel really special to be here,” said Berisha.
Berisha and Ramaj represent their countrymen in their admirable achievement but also the flourishing National Guard State Partnership Program that joins Kosovo and Iowa in military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals and cooperation objectives that also foster cultural exchange.
Over 290 service members converged at the post to earn the coveted Air Assault Badge, Pathfinder Badge or title of Rappel Master throughout August and September.
It was the first time in four years that Mobile Training Teams based out of the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia, traveled to Camp Dodge to teach the courses. The cadre led the Soldiers and Airmen through grueling tasks that were both physically and mentally challenging.
The U.S. Army Air Assault course trains service members across all branches in sling load operations and rappelling, as well as being a true test of grit. It includes phases that test not only their technical aptitude, but their ability to negotiate a tough obstacle course between repetitions of various exercises and — for those who pass all other tests — finishes with a timed 12-mile ruck march.
As for the Pathfinder course, a 2020 Army Times article stated the course would get the axe as projected at the time, but Sgt. 1st Class Josh Ludecke said that's not the case. Ludecke is the primary Pathfinder instructor assigned to Company B, ARNG WTC.
“We're still here for the Army National Guard, and our training center has absorbed executive agency of the Pathfinder school,” said Ludecke. “We're doing things that we can to fit [the course] more toward the force we need.”
1st Lt. Tanner Potter is an Iowa National Guard Soldier currently serving on active duty orders as the executive officer of Company B, ARNG WTC. He explained the difference between the Army’s Pathfinder and Air Assault courses.
“Pathfinders are able to be off on their own establishing drop zones and can go in ahead of a unit,” said Potter. “It’s just extremely in-depth, almost like college-level classes. Air assault is much easier for younger Soldiers to understand, strictly focusing on tower rigging and rappelling, that sort of thing.”
Each course has overall objectives and knowledge that culminates with each skill level. Air Assault is meant to lay the foundation for Pathfinder as well as the Rappel Master course, which is currently being held at Camp Dodge.
Sgt. Briton Ensminger, a cavalry scout with Troop A, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, IANG, said the Pathfinder course involved “very, very rigorous studying.” Yet, the long hours of mental strain paid off when he earned his badge on graduation day alongside his twin brother, Sgt. Bergen Ensminger, and was pinned by the primary Air Assault instructor. The Ensminger brothers are from Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
“The non-commissioned officer-in-charge of Air Assault is an old squad leader of mine [from] when I deployed,” said Ensminger. “He got to pin on my torch for me, so that was pretty cool.”
The Rappel Master course at Camp Dodge, which also offers a valuable and specialized set of skills focusing on aircraft rigging and rappelling, is set to graduate approximately 27 service members Sept. 15. This will close out a significant joint training event that gives service members a chance to both stand out and stand together with others who’ve earned these skills and badges.