By Rob McIlvaineMarch 22, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Army News Service, March 22, 2012) -- Congressional staffers spent the last of their three days at the Joint Maneuver Center of Excellence here, learning first-hand about Army training.
Lt. Col. Kevin Butler, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, helped legislative assistant Nahmyo Thomas adjust her rope before rappelling down a wall. The event was one of the activities that 54 congressional staffers were encouraged to participate in during a visit to Fort Benning, March 14-16. Thomas works for Rep. Jackie Speler of California.
"You have to get this rope tight," Butler warned. Make it "so tight that you guys, if you want children, better not do this event."
Other staffers weren't so much worried about that as they were the height of the wall.
"Being afraid of heights, the thought of rappelling down the 60-foot wall and jumping off the 35-foot tower was terrifying," said Christy L. Paavola, senior legislative assistant to Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin.
"However, once I started going down the wall, I gained confidence and ended up loving both activities," Paavola said.
This year, more than 92,000 Soldiers will be trained in basic combat, infantry, armor, cavalry, mechanics, and leader development at the 285 square mile base in Georgia.
During the 2012 "STAFFDEL" or staff delegation to Fort Benning, the congressional staffers had the opportunity to see and participate in some of what those Soldiers do. Staffers participated in brief physical training sessions on two mornings during their visit, and also learned a little about many of the things every Soldier must learn, including tank warfare, shooting rifles and hand guns, rappelling and parachuting.
"The trip to Fort Benning provided tremendous situational awareness [about] U.S. Army culture, training and capabilities," said Dan Marambio, the defense and space legislative assistant to Rep. Bill Posey of Florida.
On their final days at Fort Benning, the staffers had the chance to rappel down a wall, view a performance by the Silver Wings parachute team, and also learn about the team's training and techniques. Staffers also got to try some of that training by climbing the 60-foot "Eagle Tower" to slide down on a zipline.
"Seeing firsthand the dedication, hard work and camaraderie shared by our women and men in uniform was a truly eye-opening experience," said Mischa Fisher, legislative director with Rep. Randall M. Hultgren of Illinois. "The Army today represents our nation's best and brightest; experiencing even a fraction of their training was extremely rewarding."
Paavola said she was impressed by the hard work done by Soldiers at Fort Benning.
"I think the Army does a great job of helping Soldiers achieve what they originally may have thought impossible," Paavola said. "The entire time I was at Fort Benning I was impressed by how much training our Soldiers go through and what they achieve. They have my utmost respect."
Every year, the Army Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison hosts two "Army Days" at an Army installation to demonstrate Army values and familiarize congressional staffers with Army training.
Many of the congressional staffers, who work with congressmen and senators, said the opportunity gave them insight into and an understanding of the importance of the programs they fund.
"It was one of the most professionally executed events that I have ever been a part of," said Javier M. Sanchez, a military legislative assistant with Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. "Everyone that we came in contact with provided us with a taste of Army life and great information that will be very useful in our role as advisers to our respective members of congress."
All 54 of the congressional staffers and Army Office of Congressional Legislative Liaison members said they look forward to the next STAFFDEL, or staff delegation, to one of the Army's installations.