The US Army Air Assault School is a fast pace course that trains soldiers on helicopter orientation, sling load operations, and helicopter borne air assault operations.

 

Air Assault School - CDT Gasvoda, 2012

During this year’s summer break, I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks (10 JULY-23 JULY) at the Army Sabaluski Air Assault School in Camp Smith, New York.

Going into the course, I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous. I heard that it was very physically, and mentally demanding for the 1.5 weeks. I had a general idea what to expect thanks in large part to cadets who had passed in previous years. I also read about the course online, and I was able to get an Air Assault handbook to read through before I left. Even with all that knowledge going in to it, I was still nervous because of the horror stories I heard about the second phase, sling load operations. Yet, I was confident as the class began because I had trained rigorously in the months leading up to it. It also helped to make several friends at West Point, such as 2LT Holton’s younger brother, who attends the University of Wyoming. Knowing that you could count on other cadets to help you along the way helped my confidence level as well. Although it was a course that tested the individual, teamwork was essential if you wanted to be successful.

On Friday the 13th (not exactly the day you wanted to start on) was Day Zero, and with that came a 0200 wake up. My class, number 703-12, began with 191 soldiers. The majority were cadets, either from West Point or R.O.T.C., while the rest were a mix of Air Force Cadets, Navy Midshipmen, Active duty soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, New York National Guardsmen, and foreign soldiers from Ecuador, Chile, The Republic of Georgia, Canada, and Rwanda. All 191 of us gathered in the cafeteria to learn that our instructors were on loan from the Major General of 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We all knew that these next 10.5 days would be far from easy. As my name and roster number (226) were called, I nervously ran outside in the dark to join some fellow classmates as we were smoked continuously for the next 10 minutes. And with that, Zero Day began. The rest of the day consisted of completion of an obstacle course, some more smoke sessions, a 2 mile run that had to be done in 18 minutes or less, and some more smoking. Our class lost 11 on Day Zero as we began the next day with 180. The rest of Phase I consisted of a 6 mile ruck march, Physical Training sessions on the mornings of Days 2 and 3, and classroom lessons about helicopters and Air Assault Operations in the afternoon. Phase I concluded with a 50 question multiple choice test, and a hands on test in which we were evaluated on our knowledge of hand and arm signals. At the end of the first phase, 172 soldiers were still remaining.

The next phase, that I previously mentioned, was sling load operations. In this phase we were taught how to properly inspect loads that were ready to be picked up by aircraft. We also learned everything you ever need to know about the equipment used during sling load operations. Ever wonder why 550 cord is called 550 and not 350? I never did either before this course. But you’ll learn why during this phase. The important thing that was stressed during this phase was attention to detail, attention to detail, and attention to detail. The smallest thing could be wrong with a load, and if it wasn’t properly inspected, the load could fall during flight. I spent at least four hours a night for three nights studying the material that would be on the written test, while also going over the loads that were prepared outside. Come test day, we had to pass another 50 question multiple choice test, and the hands on portion of the test which consisted of identifying three out of four deficiencies on a load for four different loads. You had to pass each load in order to receive a “Go.” Although I had heard horror stories about people failing this phase, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and everyone in my class passed Phase II.

Once we got to Phase III, it was all downhill from there. Phase III was by far the most fun because all it consisted of was rappelling. We spent the final three days at the towers, first going off the 15 foot incline to get a feel for rappelling before we moved to the 42 foot tower. There we only did one rappel off the wall side, while the other 10 were done on the open side. While this was the most fun phase, it was also the most uncomfortable because of one thing…the Swiss seat. We tied about 30 Swiss seats during the three days. It was important because we were tested on tying proper seats in 90 seconds. Along with that test, we had to hook up to the tower ropes in 15 seconds, pass all belay procedures, and successfully complete three rappels, a lock-in, Hollywood, and a combat rappel with ruck and vest. After completing the test, we were fortunate enough to rappel twice out of UH-60 Blackhawks that were hovering about 85 feet above the ground. That was by far the highlight of the course and probably one of the coolest things I have ever done. Phase III and the course concluded with a 12 mile ruck march on the morning of Day 10, followed by graduation.

Air Assault School was a great experience. It was very rewarding as I made new friends, learned a lot about Air Assault Operations, and I earned the honor to wear the wings, something that very few people have the chance to do. If anyone gets the opportunity to go I recommend two things; 1. Take an arts and crafts class before you go so you can master the art of stenciling. It was an absolute pain to make them for pretty much everything you owned, and 2. Get ready mentally to say “Air Assault” at least a couple million times because it will happen while you’re there. Even though it got to be annoying after the first day, by graduation it meant a lot more when 165 Air Assault qualified soldiers sounded off for one final time with “Air Assault!”