By Spc. Nathan Booth, 4th Public Affairs DetachmentNovember 7, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas, Nov. 7, 2011 -- After 10 days and 77 drop-outs, 163 Soldiers and Airmen graduated from Fort Hood's first Air Assault Course in two decades.
The course, consisting of three phases -- air assault, slingload and rappel -- tested the limits of the students' mental and physical fortitude.
"The chain of command has done a wonderful job selecting the right Soldiers to come to this course," III Corps and Fort Hood Command Sgt. Major Arthur Coleman Jr. said. "It is very physically demanding. It's not for the weak at heart. I can tell you that for a fact."
Before leaders across Fort Hood and the surrounding area could select those Soldiers, however, the post would need leaders to train the prospective air assault troops.
Fort Hood's solution was two-part: one, cadre consisting of noncommissioned officers from across III Corps, and two, a mobile training team, or MTT, from the Warrior Training Center, Fort Benning, Ga.
"The MTT that came from Fort Benning, Georgia, are highly professional noncommissioned officers who brought the skill set that we wanted," Coleman said. "They're doing a fantastic job every single day, making sure that our Soldiers here at the Great Place are receiving the best training possible."
With the help of the MTT, the Fort Hood Air Assault Course was soon underway, all with little officer involvement.
"It being run by noncommissioned officers shows that an NCO can do anything that they put their mind to, so long as they ensure they have the right training and initiative to make it happen," said Sgt. 1st Class James Williams, the Fort Hood Air Assault Course noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
The first phase of training, air assault phase, thrusts students into the rigorous training schedule and lays the groundwork for the rest of the course.
Students learn air assault, aeromedevac and pathfinder operations, hand and arm signals, and aircraft familiarization and safety.
"It has a lot of practical application," said Sgt. Sergio Cardenas, platoon sergeant of 3rd Platoon, Apache Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "It's a great tool for me to be able to train my Soldiers in the future."
Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Hann, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Department of Pathology noncommissioned officer in charge, believes non-traditional air assault Soldiers also benefit from the course.
"It's definitely good for Fort Hood to have this type of training at the installation," Hann said. "I think it's good not to be lazy, and I have to practice what I preach."
The second phase, slingload phase, requires students to prepare loads for air lift by helicopter. This equipment includes the M998 Humvee, 5,000-pound or 10,000-pound cargo nets and multi-fuel blivets.
This phase is considered mentally demanding, as everything must be committed to memory, such as the tensile strength of equipment used in slingload operations, lift capabilities of supporting aircraft, and rigging and inspecting prepared loads.
"The skill set that they're going to offer their units at the end of 10 days is unmatched," Coleman said. "Students will be able to go back to their organizations and know what right looks like when it comes to slingload operations."
The third phase, rappel phase, includes applying basic rappelling knowledge to drop from a 50-foot rappel tower and later an Army helicopter hovering 80 feet above ground.
"If you look at the rappel tower, there are a lot of people that are scared out of their minds about heights," Cardenas said. "Their confidence when they're walking in here may be really low, but by the time they leave, they're more than eager to jump out of a bird, which is a great tool for them."
According to Coleman, the intangible benefits gained from the Air Assault Course are immeasurable.
"The rappelling gives you a sense of not only courage, but confidence," Coleman said. "What a beauty it is for a Soldier to have confidence in themselves, in their equipment and in their ability to get the job done."
The class guidon bearer and the cycle's oldest Soldier, Pfc. Michael Davidson, 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said the course benefited him and will help his peers in the future.
"It makes you stronger internally and externally," Davidson said. "I can share my experiences with the other guys and be able to help them out and help wherever I'm needed."
Although not considered a phase, graduation day provides perhaps the most intimidating challenge to the prospective Air Assault Soldiers -- the 12-mile road march.
First Lt. Joshua Lakey, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div., was the first to complete the daunting task, clocking in at 1 hour and 57 minutes.
"I'm definitely proud," Lakey said. "A lot of the officers and NCOs in my unit strive to be the best, and that helps me to push to do the same."
Williams hopes the tradition will help to develop a fully self-contained course, managed and taught by Fort Hood Soldiers for service members across the southwest region, without relying on the MTT's assistance.
"I would like to see it happen," Williams said. "We have the facility and we have what it takes. We just need some noncommissioned officers with the initiative and will to make it happen."
Hann believes the training would benefit any Fort Hood Soldier.
"I've definitely figured out that it's easier to wake up after four hours of sleep to come to this than it is to get eight hours of sleep and go back to the office doing the same stuff day in and day out."