By Michelle Kennedy, Fort Drum Public AffairsSeptember 29, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y., Sept. 29, 2011 -- Air Assault School is widely known as a tough course and, by design, it weeds out those who don't meet the requirements. The road marches, obstacle courses, sling-load operations and rappelling are physically and emotionally demanding; however, probably the most important task the Soldiers must master during the two-week course is attention to detail.
On "zero day," 148 Soldiers recently reported to the Light Fighters School where the Air Assault School is taught.
During the course, students are required to lay out their gear. Those who didn't pack properly are immediately cut from the course, while the rest proceed to an obstacle course.
Soldiers must go through nine stations -- two of which are required -- before completing a two-mile run. All the while, students who can't meet the requirements are cut from the course.
During the rest of the course, Soldiers learn how to conduct sling-load operations, ground training and rappelling, according to Sgt. 1st Class Chad Pickering, instructor.
"Quite a few are cut the first day," he said. "(The course) is more about attention to detail than anything else. If they can pay attention and learn what they're supposed to do, then they'll make it. If they have a hard time retaining certain things or getting a certain sequence down and being able to stick to it, they're not going to make it."
Safety and attention to detail play an especially important role during sling-load operations and rappelling down a 45-foot tower, according to 1st Sgt. Steven Plimpton, Light Fighters School commandant.
"Safety violations are non-negotiable," he said. "The graduates will ensure that the load, rigging and proper hook-up components to the aircraft are safe for the crew and any ground personnel."
Attention to detail is important because of safety -- the safety of the Soldiers and those they are assisting. Making a mistake could have fatal consequences.
"Attention to detail is extremely important especially in phase three -- rappelling," he explained. "Obviously safety is a big (factor) during sling-load operations (because) you have to think about the welfare of the helicopters, the pilots and people we're trying to get the equipment to."
Pickering said Air Assault School allows Soldiers to grow as leaders during the course.
"They have to apply attention to detail and retain the knowledge to teach other Soldiers they're working with," he said. "As they learn those qualities and traits, they'll grow into a good leader."
While in combat, air-assault Soldiers use their training the most during sling-load operations. For Soldiers in remote locations, sometimes a helicopter is the only way to get them necessary supplies such as water, food and ammunition, Pickering explained. Sometimes the Soldiers are required to rappel out of helicopters when vehicles can't get to an area.
"In air-assault operations, you can use (rappelling) to expedite a platoon into a territory where you can't necessarily get vehicles into," he said.
Spc. Coby Cochran, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, who went through the course last month, said he really enjoyed the training.
"Air Assault School has taught us a lot," he said. "We've learned about sling loads, preparing and rigging certain vehicles and equipment to be carried by helicopters."
Cochran, who was recently named honor graduate at Ranger School, agreed that the school focuses attention to detail.
"The instructors are great. You really can learn a lot (from them), and they're really doing a great thing out here," he said.
Of the 148 students, including a handful of airmen, 112 graduated from the course Aug. 26.
Meanwhile, the Light Fighters School recently was accredited as a Learning Institution of Excellence by the Training and Doctrine Command. Air Assault School is just one of the courses instructors teach; they also provide shooting, combatives and pre-Ranger School training.
"We have to be men of many hats to be instructors out here," Pickering said.
Plimpton added that it was "outstanding" to receive a score of 95 percent.
"We got that score with half of the staff (as some other schools,)" he said. "It's really a testament to our instructors out here."