By Heather Graham-Ashley, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsJuly 2, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas (July 2, 2012) -- Pfc. Jacquay Jackson knew what he was getting into. He was in for 10 days of testing his physical and mental limits, but he wanted to be a part of Fort Hood's first Air Assault class conducted by Fort Hood instructors.
"It says how strong you are," the 157th Quartermaster Company, 4th Sustainment Brigade Soldier said. "For me personally, it's not the Air Assault wings, but knowing I can be better."
Jackson was one of more than 250 Fort Hood service members vying to earn one of 130 slots for Fort Hood's Air Assault School during Zero Day, June 23.
"Air Assault is a coveted badge," 1st Sgt. James Williams, first sergeant of Fort Hood's Air Assault School, said. "They call it the 'He-Man' badge. It's a tough, challenging school."
Before being admitted to the school, troops had to get past in-processing Friday and then Zero Day Saturday, the most physically taxing day of the course, which began at 4 a.m. and included a two-mile run and the Air Assault obstacle course, and temperatures in the low 100s.
"It was hot and fun," Jackson said, "It was a good test physically."
Out of the 260 who signed up for the school, 32 were dropped Friday -- 18 no-shows and 14 turned away for missing items during in-processing, Williams said.
That number dwindled again on Zero Day when only the first 130 to complete the obstacle course were accepted into the school.
By Day Two June 25, 117 remained in the class.
The class traditionally has a 20 percent failure rate, Williams said, noting that the physical part is not usually a Soldier's undoing.
"It is a physically difficult course, but there's a lot of thought involved, too," the first sergeant said. "Historically, Phase Two, slingload operations, is killer."
Air Assault School is much more than fast roping from helicopters or rappelling from towers.
"That's a small part of it," Williams said. "There are slingload operations, aerial re-supply. A lot of stuff is done on the ground."
Air Assault School is a 10-day course that consists of three phases and a 12-mile foot march that must be completed before graduation.
Phase One, combat assault, is a three-day lesson about aircraft safety, aero medical evacuation, pathfinder operations, hand-arm signals and close-combat operations. Phase Two, also three days, covers slingload operations from planning to rigging. Phase Three, another three-day lesson, instructs Soldiers about rappelling. The final step is a 12-mile foot march that students must complete in three hours or less to graduate.
For Capt. Tyler Espinoza, a Black Hawk pilot with 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, Air Assault School offers an opportunity to see operations from the ground perspective.
"I wanted a better understanding," he said. "This gives the opportunity to understand the planning phase from the ground commander's perspective and will allow me to certify our own slingloads."
As a UH-60 pilot recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, Espinoza said the aircrews often had a difficult time finding an air assault-qualified Soldier to certify their loads.
"This is a mission enhancer and a combat multiplier," he said.
Although he is a pilot and familiar with the airframe used in air assault missions, Espinoza said he has no real advantage in the classroom portions of the course.
"I know what the pilot is looking for," he said. "But this is just as challenging for me as it is for everyone else."
Williams said the classroom learning typically provides the biggest challenge to students because operations must be completed in steps, and those steps must be completed in a specified order to prevent mission failure.
But, the first sergeant was pleased by what he saw on Zero Day and said he could see Soldiers came prepared.
"It was evident units had trained for it," Williams said. "The Soldiers were physically ready."
Fort Hood units were allotted slots to send their Soldiers through the school. Units also were encouraged to send alternates and walk-ons to compete.
Two of the alternates who made it to the school came from the Air Force.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jim Eberts and Airman 1st Class Brad Deegan, both of whom support the 1st Cavalry Division, volunteered to compete as alternates and were still there on Day Two.
As an Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller, Eberts said the school will help him on missions because he will be able to see an entire process in an operation.
"We have to be prepared for everything," Eberts said.
The two wanted to complete the school for the same reason as many of the Soldiers.
"We wanted to challenge ourselves," Deegan said.
The Airmen agreed that Zero Day was the toughest part, especially since a lot of the classroom lesson material was not familiar to them.
"Zero Day was pretty rough," Eberts said.
"It was definitely harder than I thought," Deegan added.
Five females also came out for the school. Three were still in on Day Two.
Spc. Terria Wheeler, 1st Cavalry Division, said the school was a great opportunity to challenge herself.
"It's been challenging," she said. "I knew the course would be tough but I put my best foot forward."
Williams is optimistic about this, Fort Hood's first class to graduate under the home team of instructors.
"I think we'll have a good class," he said. "I'd like to see over 100 graduate, but we are not going to lower the standards."
Graduation for the course will be held at 11 a.m., July 3, on Division West's Cameron Field.
Williams said he thinks this first class will help spread the word that Fort Hood has its own Air Assault School, and the lessons learned by these students will help the units conduct lessons learned training.
Wheeler agreed that the first class will be a motivator to others.
"I think this will make others want to do it," she said. "The school is fair, but tough."