CAMP HOVEY, South Korea -- For the first time in 15 years, 2nd Infantry Division and Eighth U.S. Army Soldiers tackled the rigorous Air Assault Course at Camp Hovey, South Korea.

The course, held Feb. 25 to March 3, 2013, at Camp Hovey, began with 312 Soldiers ready to compete for the course's 250 slots. The course qualifies Soldiers to conduct air assault and helicopter sling-load operations and proper rappelling and fast-rope techniques. Those who graduate are the best of the best and authorized to wear the coveted Air Assault Badge.

"The school is 10 days of rigorous, fast-paced training that tests the Soldiers' physical endurance and mental capacity to pay attention to detail," said Lt. Col. William Beck, 2nd Inf. Div. director of training and exercise.

This was proven even before the course officially started when the Soldiers had to meticulously lay out all of the gear on their packing list for inspection.

"Attention to detail serves as an indicator of whether the Soldier is capable of maintaining the standards of the course," said Maj. Pattrick J. Lander, officer in charge of the Air Assault Course instructors.

The inspection was followed by the completion of a two-mile run and the challenging Air Assault Obstacle Course for Soldiers to gain entry to the course.

"Strength and mental capacity are both tested right away because it takes both to complete the class successfully." Lander said. "This course is not all physical. But if you miss one detail, it could be detrimental to the mission -- loss of the bird, equipment, supplies or the loss of a life."

Fourteen instructors were flown in from the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga., to lead the course in Korea.

"I love to travel all around the world because I get to interact with different military services and we get to train the best fighting forces in the world," said Staff Sgt. Derek C. Koth, air assault instructor, with the WTC.

The last 2nd Inf. Div. Air Assault Course was held in 1997. Following 9-11, emphasis was placed on training Soldiers headed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. In conjunction with President Obama's pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, the opportunity presented itself to bring the training back to the Korean Peninsula to make maximize the division's helicopter assets to support unit operations.

"Due to the difficult mountainous terrain here in Korea, traveling and resupplying our forces by air is faster and more efficient than by ground," said Beck. "We can cover more ground if we have Air Assault qualified Soldiers, fully trained and capable of completing the mission," said Beck.

Many Soldiers feel this course will also enhance their military career.

"Becoming Air Assault qualified will mean a lot to me," said Pfc. Ryan S. Rivers, a human resource specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Inf. Div., and a native of Bronx, N.Y. "I want to complete and succeed through this course, knowing I did my best and pushed myself through all three phases. I know I can accomplish anything I set my mind to."

U.S. Soldiers weren't the only ones who feel that way. Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army soldier Cpl. Kim Jong-chan, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist with the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Inf. Div., also completed the course.

"I am really proud of myself and everyone who graduated with me," said Kim. "I had amazing support from my teammates because this accomplishment means the world to me."

On the final day of the course, the Soldiers completed a 12-mile ruck march in three hours, then stood in formation while division leadership pinned their well-earned Air Assault badge on their uniform. One hundred and ninety-five graduated the course.

"This course demands a level of professional commitment, physical prowess and individual discipline that is measured in exacting standards, which demand attention to detail," said Brig. J.B. Burton, 2nd Inf. Div. deputy commanding general for maneuver at the graduation ceremony. "The efforts of these young men and women have added capability to the 2nd Infantry Division.

"Excellence, precision, and technical competence are what you represent," he said. "You've met the mark and that badge identifies you as someone that others can turn to for assistance and expertise in Air Assault operations, which directly contribute to our capability to 'Fight Tonight' as part of the ROK-U.S. Alliance."