Aug. 24, 2011

National Guard mobile teams bring air assault, Pathfinder to Virginia

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen  
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. Mobile Training Teams from the Fort Benning-based Warrior Training Center’s Company B came to Fort Pickett in August to teach air assault and Pathfinder classes to the Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard and active components of the Army and Air Force. The instructors taught the air assault class Aug. 1-12, and ran the Pathfinder class from Aug. 9-22.

 

Soldiers from the Fort Benning-based Warrior Training Center teach students sling load operations on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during U.S. Army Pathfinder School at Fort Pickett, Va., Aug. 19. The mission of a Pathfinder is to provide technical assistance and advise the ground unit commander on combat assault operations, sling load operations, air movement, airborne operations, and aerial re-supply by fixed and rotary wing aircraft. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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The air assault course, which is broken into three phases- aircraft recognition, sling load operations and rappelling, lasts just 12 days, but packs a lot of training and many tests in a short amount of time. The students began their “zero day” with a grueling obstacle course and a two-mile run in uniform that sent many potential students packing before their training ever began.

During phase II, sling loads operations, the students focus on six different loads. To pass the second phase, the students must find three out of four preparation rigging deficiencies in less than two minutes to proceed to phase III, according to Sgt. James Hayden, an air assault instructor.

“Overlooking minor details is one of the big things that can send people home from this course, but once they pass the second phase they move on to rappelling and the 12 mile road march,” said Hayden.

“Attention to detail is important because you don’t want to be lost out in the field and not have the proper gear. It’s a survival thing and I think every Soldier needs that,” said Spc. David Craige, an air assault student from the Vermont National Guard.

Most instructors agree that the most important phase of the course as it pertains to what Soldiers are facing in the field is the sling load portion.

“What they take away from this course will actually help them in getting needed equipment and supplies to locations where they only way to get it here is by helicopter and sling load said, Staff Sgt. Louis Bravo, lead instructor for air assault. “They will take away the knowledge and the skill to do that for their units.”

 

Soldiers and Airmen conduct rappelling tests during Phase III of the U.S. Army air assault course Aug. 11 at Fort Pickett. A Mobile Training Team from the Fort Benning-based Army National Guard Warrior Training Center is teaching the course at Fort Pickett for the second year in a row. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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“The instructors here work extremely hard,” said Bravo. “What most people don’t know about the cadre here is that this year we are teaching almost 12 months out of the year. We get little down time and we are on the road nine to ten months a year doing the same thing at various locations.”

The Pathfinder course, also taught by Soldiers of Company B improves on the skills taught during air assault, although air assault is not a pre-requisite to attend Pathfinder. The Pathfinder school teaches the Soldiers to set up drop zones, landing zones, pickup zones, air traffic control operations and medical evacuation procedure.

“The mission of a Pathfinder is to provide technical assistance and advise the ground unit commander on combat assault operations, sling load operations, air movement, airborne operations and aerial re-supply by fixed and rotary wing aircraft,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jessie Parsons, Pathfinder instructor in charge. “A Pathfinder brings a unique capability to the battlefield especially as we continue combat operations in theatres with rugged terrain where it is not feasible for maneuver units to be re-supplied by means of ground convoys.”

Graduates from both courses will be able to provide their units with a unique skill set that can prove invaluable in areas of operations where reaching objectives by conventional means may prove unfeasible. The Soldiers will be able to reach their objectives and supply points in coordination with air assets.

“A Pathfinder has the skill set to provide ground unit commanders the ability to receive re-supply by airdrop or by sling load,” said Parsons. “A Pathfinder also has the skill set required to conduct large airborne operations for personnel and equipment during any type of forcible entry mission if needed.”

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