One-Of-A-Kind Air Assault Training

One-Of-A-Kind Air Assault Training
By: Amy Jacquin

(Fort Campbell, KY)--Some of the troops deployed in case of war with Iraq are from Ft Campbell.  And more are likely to follow.  Ft Campbell is today best known for it's Air Assault Division.  This is another in a series of reports with an insider's look at the Screaming Eagles.

Every soldier must graduate from grueling training before he earns his Air Assault wings.  It's some of the hardest, most demanding, and mentally challenging exercises soldiers are exposed to at Ft. Campbell. 

Air Assault training is the tie that binds soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division. We start by watching the first exercise soldiers are commanded to do, to demonstrate sheer strength of body... and of mind. Instructors use this obstacle to guage a soldier's confidence -- or fear-- when they're high above the ground.

"We have some people that are just too scared," says instructor, Sgt. Steven Henderson. But the post offers a "scared of heights" class to help overcome that.

An average of only 60% graduate from the 10.5 day Air Assault Schoool... But a soldier can keep trying to earn his wings. As General Order #5 states, like a Screaming Eagle, the 101st will "crush it's enemies by falling upon them like a thunderbolt from the skies."

"It's like a right of passage," says Sgt. Henderson. "We put soldier's through a lot of tests... physically demanding and mentally challenging. When they graduate, they have a lot more pride, and a lot more knowledge on how to use the aircraft. "

All these physical obstacles help prepare for the tough jobs assigned to an air mobile division. They learn how to control choppers from the ground using hand signals. They learn how to secure "sling loads" to the bellies of moving helicopters for hauling during combat situations. And they learn how to quickly repel from an aircraft into hostile environments.

A 34-foot tower is where their rope training starts. By the time they're finished with school, they'll repel from a chopper hovering almost three times this high!

The soldiers are in complete control, stopping and starting as commanded. Or they can "lock in" -- as this solder demonstrates.

"If an aircraft left the ground and the ropes came off the ground and he couldn't safely descend, he'd do a combat lock-in, and he could susstain himself in that position for an extended period of t ime, until the aircraft can put him back in a safe position," explains Capt. L.J. Baker.

"The soldier's take the training a bit more seriously, knowing it may save their life," reiterates Henderson.

The key is to repeat these drills frequently in controlled situations, so when they day comes and they're in an uncontrolled environment, it's second nature to do the right thing.

An Air Assault flock of helicopters can land -- blades just feet apart -- and the troops bail out in time for the choppers to take off again -- all in less than 30 seconds!

It's a much different story for the 101st than the paratroopers of WWII. The slow descent made easy targets.  But troop helicopters  replaced planes after the Korean war, and a "fast rope out" is safer for the soldiers. And it all starts at the 10.5 day Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, where soldiers proudly show their skill and stamina.

"The feeling is around here at Fort Campbell, that until you have your Air Assault wings, you're not a full member of 101st Airborne Division Air Assault," states Sgt. Henderson.

And that's something those soldier's won't settle for.