By David Vergun, ARNEWSJanuary 4, 2013
SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, Jan. 4, 2013) -- The Alamodome is not for the faint of heart, at least when rappelling from the ceiling to the artificial turf, 180 feet below.
But nine rappelling instructors from the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Ky., did just that multiple times around midnight, Jan. 2, as part of their practice preparation for a very big event Jan. 5.
That big event is the U.S. Army All-American Bowl game, where about 90 of the nation's top-ranked high school football players will compete in the annual East-West game, Jan. 5.
Before the game begins at 1 p.m. EST, the plan is for four of the Soldiers to rappel; four to be on belay control, holding the end of the rope to prevent a free fall or too rapid a descent; and one rappel master, who will harness the Soldiers and ensure the ropes are securely fastened to the ceiling support structure.
The four will rappel simultaneously. They'll be wearing camera helmets to video their head-down "Australian style" descent and one of them will be carrying the football game ball to deliver to the referees at the start of the game.
Watching them will be some 40,000 spectators, as well as many more on television.
"At 180 feet, people look like ants," said Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Jenkins, senior rappel instructor. "This is pretty high, even for us. It can be really intimidating."
The rappel tower used by the Soldiers at Fort Campbell is 34 feet high, he said, adding that fear of great heights is a natural reaction, even for the seasoned instructors.
"Once you get up there and look down, you will have to decide whether or not you can or can't do this," he said. "Only one of us has rappelled this high -- about 220 feet from a helicopter."
Soon, however, all the Soldiers were rappelling. Some were a bit hesitant at first, they later admitted, yelling down to belay control to test the ropes with their body weight -- to increase their confidence that this would work without any nasty surprises.
Jenkins explained his way to get past the fear factor. "The hardest part is stepping off, what we call the 'initial bound.' It's definitely an adrenalin moment," he said.
"When you do that, it's best not to look down," he continued. "Focus on the horizon. Then, once gravity takes over, you'll automatically be looking at the ground, but by then, the fear is mostly gone and you're focused on the rappel."
The other challenge is to synchronize the descent.
"We'll be using our peripheral vision to see where the others are at on the ropes," explained Staff Sgt. Aaron Brown, one of the instructors.
"Bart will have the biggest challenge," Brown said, explaining that Staff Sgt. James Bartoszek weighs the most of the four and he will need to grip the rope the tightest to slow his descent speed to match the others. Those who weigh less will have an easier descent.
During the practice, several of the Soldiers complained about their hands feeling pretty warm, despite wearing gloves. Brown said the friction is not really a problem at the Fort Campbell tower because it is not as high. He said the Soldiers decided after the first rappel to add special inserts into their gloves so their hands don't heat up too much.
Brown said this is his first year at AAB. "I've watched it on TV in years past," he said. "Now that I'm here, I'm really impressed by all the behind-the-scenes work it takes to make this happen. It's a really busy place, and we're just a small piece of it."
He added that he's looking forward to meeting the student athletes and the Soldier heroes who are attending AAB and interacting with the kids.
There are a total of 36 instructors at the air assault school. The nine participants here, including the school's only female instructor, are all volunteers, Jenkins said, adding that they were the "lucky nine," as others would have gladly taken their places.
"After this is all over, we'll be able to look back with pride and say, 'we delivered the game,'" Jenkins concluded.
To see more AAB photos, follow on Twitter at #armybowl.