FORT HOOD, Texas (Feb. 19, 2014) – How do Soldiers train for and earn the coveted Army Air Assault badge? Enduring 10 days of fast-paced training may not seem so harsh to some, but under grueling weather conditions and long hours, trainees are pushed to their maximum potential — physically and mentally.
Soldiers undergo three phases of training.
During the first phase of training, known as the Combat Assault Phase, Soldiers learn orientation and aircraft operations like helicopter landing zones and markings, aero-medical evacuation procedures, and Pathfinder hand and arm signals. Before all that, Soldiers must complete a two-mile run and obstacle course, said Capt. Stephen S. Ruff, the commander of the Fort Hood Air Assault School and the Phantom Warrior Academy.
“When the students come to me, we [the instructors] are teaching the second phase of training … sling load operations,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jared K. Winegarden, the phase two team chief and a Dyersburg, Tenn., native. “A sling load is any cargo that we are physically attaching beneath a rotary wing aircraft.”
Winegarden said the final phase of training deals with proper rappelling techniques, where students learn how to tie a conventional hip rappel seat in less than 90 seconds, perform several rappels from a 50-foot tower and rappel from a height of 85 feet from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
Being a part of the Air Assault School holds different meaning for the school’s cadre.
“Being the commander of such a great school is awesome and a very unique experience,” Ruff said. “I feel very blessed because I have an opportunity to command the hand-selected, top-notch cadre and the ability to work with a new batch of students each month; it’s great.”
“I enjoy teaching students each cycle,” Winegarden said.
Not only do the cadre enjoy being a part of the Air Assault School, their hard work and dedication are reflected in the lessons learned by the students.
“The instructors did exceptionally well teaching the material,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas K. Spinks, a graduate of the course and first sergeant of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, from Meridian, Miss. “I’ve been to various schools throughout my military career, and the instructors here have been the most professional instructors I have ever had.”
Spinks said the instructors were meticulous in making sure students are paying attention to the blocks of instruction, because attention to detail is important when dealing with heights and heavy loads under aircraft.
On graduation day, students must complete a 12-mile foot march with a full combat load and weapon in less than three hours, to be awarded air assault wings. Students who have completed all of the other training successfully, but fail the foot march, do not graduate.
“This course was very challenging, but now I feel like I can lead by example and motivate my Soldiers to go through this course,” Spinks said.
“To see the trials and tribulations that each Soldier goes through is truly amazing. we remind the students not to give up,” Ruff said.