June 6, 2005
By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard with hopes of attending Air Assault School in June got a taste of what the first day of the training would be like with an Air Assault Pre-Course on the obstacle course at Fort Pickett. A total of 31 Soldiers started the day on Saturday, May 21, and 22 were cleared to attend the course on Jun. 6.
According to Maj. James A. Caruso, the Virginia Army Guard’s State Training Support Officer, there are three reasons the Virginia Guard conducts the Air Assault School Pre-Course. First, it provides an opportunity to validate that the Soldier has the appropriate paperwork and won’t get sent home for administrative reasons. Second, it gives Soldiers a taste of what they will face on arriving at Air Assault School. The very first day of training is referred to as “Zero Day” and consists of a paperwork review, obstacle course and 2-mile run.
The third reason for the pre-course is to help Soldiers prepare for the mental aspect of Air Assault School. “Air Assault School is more mental than physical,” Caruso said. “Once the paperwork scrub, obstacle course and 2-mile run are completed, our instructors from the RTI provide each Soldier basic instruction in several areas they will be required to perform for evaluation. The bottom line is the pre-course sets the Soldier up for success.”
A team of highly-experienced NCOs from 1st Battalion, 183rd Regional Training Institute conduct the pre-course. “Our RTI folks do an exceptional job each time we conduct this training,” Caruso said. “On Zero Day at Air Assault School, each soldier is required to successfully complete the obstacle course and 2-mile run to standard,” Caruso said. “If they do not, they are sent home. Our training day validates the Soldier’s ability to meet the standard.”
With names like “The Weaver,” “The Belly Crawl,” “The Swing, Stop and Jump” and “The Tough One”, the obstacle course is a significant physical and mental challenge that tests whether or not a Soldier is ready for the rigors of Air Assault School. There are a total of 10 obstacles, and a Soldier is only allowed to get a “No-Go” on two obstacles, with the exception of the “Confidence Climb” and “The Tough One”. While a Soldier can get a “No-Go” on two other obstacles, they are required to successfully complete those two obstacles.
“Ever since I joined the Army, I have wanted to go to Air Assault School,” said Sgt. Paul Roderick, from 3rd Battalion, 111th Field Artillery. “This has been awesome training, and made me realize there is more to Air Assault School than just falling out of a helicopter. This is something I have been striving for, and this training is going to make me better prepared for the school.”
After the obstacle course and 2-mile run, the RTI team also conducts familiarization with rappelling off the Fort Pickett rappel tower. According to Sgt. 1st Class Larry Connolly, the chief instructor for the team, there is much more to Air Assault School than just rappelling.
“The Hollywood part of Air Assault School is the rappelling,” Connolly said. “But they also get important instruction on things like aircraft landing procedures, preparing a landing zone and sling loading operations for transporting material with a helicopter.” Connolly also said that Air Assault School is a great retention tool, giving hard-charging Soldiers the chance to take part in some of the Army’s most challenging training.
Caruso said the training will be conducted again each time Virginia sends a large group of Soldiers to Air Assault School.