FORT HOOD, Texas--Six Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center medics overcame two weeks of mental and physical challenges to earn the coveted Air Assault wings in a ceremony here Oct. 28.

Nine CRDAMC Soldiers joined 241 other candidates at Fort Hood's first air assault class which began 10 days earlier, but only 164 made it to the graduation ceremony. This was Fort Hood's first Air Assault class in two decades and a team of air assault trainers from Fort Benning, Ga., came here to lead it.

Air Assault, considered one of the most challenging courses in the Army, teaches Soldiers air assault skills and procedures to make maximum use of helicopter assets in training and in combat to support their unit operations. Soldiers are trained on the types of missions performed by rotary wing aircraft, aircraft safety, aero-medical evacuation procedures, pathfinder operations, principles and techniques of combat assaults, rappelling techniques, and slingload operations.

From day "zero" to the 12-mile ruck march on graduation day, Soldiers faced several tests that challenged them physically. There was a rappelling phase where they had to drop from a 50-foot rappel tower and an Army helicopter some 80 feet above ground.

"I remember how scared I felt jumping out of a helicopter for the first time. Air Assault is the toughest course in the Army. When they slap those wings on your chest, you know you've earned them," said CRDAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Walls. Walls earned his wings in 2003 at the Air Assault School in Hawaii. "It's quite an accomplishment for medics to complete this type of course, as they don't typically have a lot of time for training with their hectic schedules. How great was it that the class wing carrier, always the youngest candidate, was a CRDAMC medic from radiology? I'm really proud of these Soldiers and their hard work."

Air assault training makes them better medics as they serve in deployments in Afghanistan and other areas, Walls said. "Often, medical supplies have to be dropped from helicopters in remote locations, and now these Soldiers will have the skills and knowledge to complete the mission."

Sergeant Frank Sanchez, a medic with the Medical Evaluation Board Clinic at CRDAMC, agreed that the training was valuable to him and his career as a medic. The slingload event was his best, he said, and he scored a perfect four out of four.

"There's no doubt about it, this is tough training. I have my CMB (Combat Medic Badge), but this training was much harder," he said. "It definitely adds character. Now that I've achieved this, I'm confident that I'm ready for the next challenges in my career."

--30--