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Air Assault in Germany
Standing in line at the base of a rappel tower at Camp Robertson, Germany, PV2 Gregory Hernandez said he felt calm. But he realized that could all change very soon.
“On the top, it could be a little different,” said Hernandez. A member of Company B, 9th Engineer Battalion, he was a recent student in the first Army air-assault course taught in Germany.
When students first bounded down the 52-foot tower, they had a wall to fall back on. When they came down the other side of the tower, they had only their “brake” hand and air separating them from the ground.
The rappelling tower was just one of the challenges Hernandez and the other students had to overcome. They also experienced an excruciating “zero” day, during which more than 25 percent of the class washed out. There were foot marches, including a 12-miler on the final day that had to be completed in three hours while lugging 35 pounds of gear and carrying a rifle.
“I felt pretty sore and a little beat up,” said 2LT Joshua Hearn, from Headquarters and HQs. Co., 1st Bn., 77th Armored Regiment. “It was a pretty good gut check. I didn't know the last six miles would be so rough.”
Other challenges included helicopter sling-load operations and lots of written tests, the latter of which took some of the Soldiers by surprise.
“It's definitely more mentally challenging than I expected,” said SPC Christian Smith, of HHC, 2nd Bde. “I didn't realize we'd have to remember so many numbers. There's a lot of information to take in.”
Hernandez expressed similar sentiments. He said he disliked the written tests, and he described the sling-load phase of the course as stressful.
“It was pretty hard,” he said. “I had a ‘no-go' on one of the sling-load events, but I retested and got it. It's been a lot more work than I expected.”
Hernandez said he considered zero day more stressful than his first day of basic training.
The day before zero day consisted of in-processing, which convinced Smith the course would be much more laid-back than he thought.
“I expected the cadre to be yelling at us the first day, and there was nothing,” he said. “So the next day I was expecting it to be relaxed, and they were ‘firing smoke.'”
It all served as a lead-in to the rest of the course, with its foot marches, rappelling and occasional “smoke” sessions.
“I did a lot of marching back in basic training, but here you have to go a lot faster. You have to meet a certain time,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez advises those who come to the course to be physically fit to endure the PT portion of the program, be prepared to take written tests and not let nerves get the better of them.
The hands-on portion of sling-load training came on day five. One Soldier would signal a slow-descending helicopter into place, and when it hovered low enough, two more Soldiers would hook the load into place.
While the testing and sling-load operations caught Smith by surprise, he found the rest of the course to his liking.
“I've rappelled before. I'm not afraid of heights,” he said. “This is the fun stuff. I'm really looking forward to rappelling out of Black Hawk helicopters. That's the main reason I came here.”
In spite of the smoke sessions and raised voices, Hernandez and Smith report the students had nothing but respect for the cadre, who are National Guard Soldiers from the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga.
“They're very professional, but you must pay attention to detail,” Smith said. “Sometimes it reverts to what it was like in basic training, but what are you going to do?”
“The instructors were very student-oriented,” Hernandez said. “They stayed out as late as we needed them to every night to make sure we knew how to do each of the tasks.”
Originally, the Warrior Training Center was a pre-Ranger school, but it added air assault to its curriculum after similar schools operated by the 25th Infantry Div. and 10th Mountain Div. were closed. Germany was selected as a course site because the previous 1st Inf. Div. commanding general wanted air assault school to be offered as a re-enlistment incentive while the division served in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.