The wind from the blades whipped sand through the air as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter touched down on range 85. Instructors had just demonstrated a helicopter rappel from 90 feet in the air.

The wind from the blades whipped sand through the air as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter touched down on range 85. Instructors had just demonstrated a helicopter rappel from 90 feet in the air.

Now it was time for the students of the Deglopper Air Assault School (TDAAS) to do the same.

But first they had to wait.

A heat advisory had begun at 11 a.m. Those who weren’t participating sought refuge in the shade of a Humvee.

Those who were participating formed two lines in front of two instructors known as “black hats” for the black baseball caps they wear. The lines were long, so 1st Sgt. Shawn Dunlap from the TDAAS stepped in to help complete the rappel master inspections.

“Next rappeler step forward; sound off with your break hand,” Dunlap called.

A rappeler from the second line stepped forward. “Right hand, break hand, first sergeant,” he said, hands in the air, palms splayed forward.

Dunlap ensured the Solider had on his advanced combat helmet (ACH) and safety goggles, checked the Soldier’s gloves to ensure there were no tears, and checked the rope to ensure it was properly tied into a square knot with two overlays and that the excess rope was tucked in his pocket.

“Squat,” he commanded.

The Soldier squatted and turned around so Dunlap could ensure the leg ropes were secure and not crossed.

“Stand; turn; bend; put your brake hand on ACH,” Dunlap ordered.

He checked to ensure the rappeler’s shirt was tucked in, he had his two bits in, and the rope hadn’t went through anything. He checked the brake hand side for any equipment; then they were done.

Having passed inspection, the Soldier jogged across the field chanting “Air Assault” until he reached the line for loading.

When all of the Soldiers had passed inspection, they climbed into the UH-60 two at a time and got into position. Senior Instructor Staff Sgt. Deric Burnett squatted down in the middle of the four Soldiers and checked that each of their ropes were tethered to the aircraft before liftoff.

They sat on their knees on the floor of the aircraft, inside hand holding the rope, outside hand curled into a fist behind their back. They waited.

The grass rippled from the force of the wind like ocean waves as the UH-60 began to rise. At 60 feet, they could see the treeline. At Burnett’s signal, the soon to be graduates turned inward, then positioned themselves at the edge of the aircraft. Their bodies dangled from the air, nothing connecting them to the helicopter but the bottom of their boots.

Burnett corrected their position, forming the shape of an “L” with his fingers to remind them not to bend their knees. When they were in the correct position, he signaled for them to push off from the edge, one at a time.

“If you don’t get into that L shape, it’s a bad day for the aircraft,” said Burnett afterward, who has been with the school for 1 ½ years.

“Everytime we did the tower, my knees were bent, so I didn’t know what you were talking about,” Spc. Kevin O’Neill of the 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion explained.

The helicopter rappel was phase three of four in TDAAS. TDAAS trains Soldiers from all military branches for air assault operations, sling load operations, and rappelling operations from an aircraft.

The course spans 11 days and four phases.

During phase one, students learn about various aspects of combat air assault, including aircraft orientation, aircraft safety, rare medical evacuation, pathfinder operations, combat assault, and hand and arm signals. It consists of a two mile run (to be completed in under 18 minutes in uniform), an obstacle course, and a 50 question test on hand and arm signals.

During phase two, students learn about preparing, rigging, and inspecting sling loads. They must pass a written exam as well as a hands-on exam in which they must identify deficiencies on a Humvee.

Prior to the helicopter rappel, during phase three, students learn about tying a rappel seat, hook-up techniques, lock-in and belay procedures, and combat rappel. They rappel from a 14-foot, 45 degree wall then practice different rappels on the 45-foot tower.

Those who pass phase three move onto the final phase the following day. The last day, students have to pack all the equipment on a given list and complete a 12-mile ruck march within three hours. When finished, they lay out all the equipment for inspection.

The school is all about trust--trust in the pilot, trust in the instructor, trust in yourself, said Capt. Fritz Carr, current student in TDAAS. It doesn’t get more Army, or more military than that, he added.

Carr, former commander of the Advanced Airborne School, said the program is focused on developing junior leaders, so being a part of it at this stage in his career is unique. It has allowed him to revisit the basics, something he says is good for him as an officer to get back to.

Private First Class Corey Desgroseilliers, 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, is a junior leader. He’s the youngest student at TDAAS and Student 1st. Dunlap said they usually choose the youngest student to be Student 1st to give them a leadership opportunity they wouldn’t have with their unit.

“It’s interesting, just being from a private and kinda blending in the background to now being in the front … it’s a little different. It’s cool. I do like the responsibilities,” said Desgroseilliers.