With the Fort Bragg Air Assault School officially open for business, Fort Bragg, historically known as the home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces, may soon be welcoming a new addition to the household.
After 10 challenging days beginning with 74 potential candidates, 34 Soldiers and Airmen graduated and earned the coveted air assault badge from the school’s first air assault course, Oct. 4.
“Throughout the last 10 years, we have been conducting air assault operations and using these type of skills more often in the current war in Afghanistan,” said Capt. Matthew C. Smoose, commander of the Fort Bragg Air Assault School. “By having this school on Fort Bragg, this provides a better opportunity for Soldiers and Airmen to be more mission capable.”
The purpose of the school is to train students in air assault operations, sling-load operations and rappelling, said Smoose.
Upon graduation of the course, each graduate will be able to perform skills required to make maximum use of helicopter assets in training and in combat to support their unit operations, said Smoose.
Before being able to attend the course as a student, potential candidates would have to successfully complete Day Zero, notoriously known as the most physically demanding day before the actual school and for causing the majority of students to drop out.
Day Zero consists of physical training, a two-mile run in Army Combat Uniform with tennis shoes, the air assault obstacle course, and a six-mile foot march, said Staff Sgt. Vladimir Ilin, an instructor of the Fort Bragg Air Assault School. Day Zero shows if the candidates are not only physically and mentally ready, but if the Soldier’s heart is in the course, he said.
Out of the 74 potential candidates who signed up, only 64 completed Day Zero and were accepted into the school.
1st Sgt. Michael R. Blizard, first sergeant of the Fort Bragg Air Assault School, advises any potential candidates wanting to show up for the course to be in top, physical condition. Blizard is a second-generation air assault Soldier whose father and uncle were air assault during the Vietnam and Korea wars.
“You need to physically prepare, because if you don’t, you pay the price,” he said. “You got to be a little better than the average and have to motivate yourself to get through it.
After Day Zero, students then begin the three phases of the course.
In phase one, combat assault, students were taught air assault operations, aircraft orienteering, aircraft safety, aeromedical evacuation, pathfinder operations, hand-and-arm signals and close-combat operations. Students were then tested on the hand-and-arm signals as well as a written exam in order to move on to the next phase.
By the end of phase one, 60 students remained in the class.
In phase two, students were introduced into sling load operations, which involved hands-on training on preparation, inspection and rigging. Instructors reviewed and discussed six stations that students would be expected to identify any deficiencies. Students also utilized their skills learned to sling-load a trailer onto a UH-60M Blackhawk helicopter.
“Statistically, phase two is the biggest drop of the course,” said Ilin. “We emphasize a lot on attention to detail. It’s one the most important lessons we teach at this school.”
By the end of phase two, only 34 students would continue on to the final phase.
Both Air Force Senior Airmen Matthew Bodnar and Oscar Robles, tactical air control party specialists with 14th Air Support Operations Squadron, 18th Air Support Operations Group on Pope Field, agreed that phase two was one of the hardest.
“Sling loads were definitely a challenge…especially under the time constraint of two minutes,” said Bodnar.
“This was a big thing for everybody,” said Robles. “Attention to detail was the big emphasis throughout this course. It’s the little details that you have to do that count as well.”
In phase three, rappelling phase, students were taught the tying of the hip-rappel seat (Swiss seat), hook-up techniques, lock-in procedures, belay procedures and fast rope familiarization. Students then practiced rappelling from the wall side and open side of a 34-foot tower with and without combat equipment. Students also used the technical skills they learned to repel from a UH-60M Blackhawk helicopter in flight.
Coming into the school, Staff Sgt. Alonzo Chavez, military policeman with Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps, said that his personal reason for attending the course was to rappel out of a helicopter.
“I had a blast,” he said, “I realized that after learning all the lessons and training throughout this course, air assault is much more than just rappelling.”
After completing all three phases of the course, the final contenders would have to accomplish one final challenge in order to receive their prize — a 12-mile foot march to be completed in three hours or less, as well as a final packing list inspection to graduate.
Thirty-four graduates from the inaugural class, Class 13-01, came and conquered, earning their well-deserved air assault wings.
“I feel pretty good... it was a long road,” said Pfc. Ryan Prewitt, cannon crewmember with 1st Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Bde. “It was pretty difficult at times, but we all stuck together as a team and got through it the best we could,” said Prewitt, who was the class guidon bearer and winner of the cycle’s 12-mile foot march.
“I feel great! I’m ecstatic!” said Spc. Christopher Smith, utilities equipment repairer with 8th Ordnance Co., 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Bde. “I graduated from the first ever Air Assault class on Fort Bragg and it’s amazing.”
Graduates advised Soldiers and Airmen to begin preparing as soon as possible if they desire to join them being air assault qualified.
“Make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared…finish up and want it,” Robles added.
“Look at what you can see and see what you can touch,” said Chavez.
“Listen to the instructors and come to school with an open mind,” said Prewitt.
“Pain is temporary…it may last a minute, hour, day, a year, but failure is forever,” said Smith. “Stay hungry and keep on keeping on…Air Assault!”