University of Vermont

'09 Alum Shares Pathfinder School Advice

What are U.S. Army Pathfinders?

Army Pathfinders navigate their way through foreign terrain and establish safe landing zones for Airborne and Air Assault Soldiers or Army aircraft. They can be asked to parachute into remote areas, navigate their way to unobstructed locations, and then relay those coordinates back to a command center.

The mission of the U.S. Army Pathfinder School is to provide a three week course in which the student navigates dismounted, establishes and operates a day/night helicopter landing zone, establishes and operates day/night CARP, GMRS, and Army VIRS parachute Drop Zones, conducts slingload rigging and inspections, aeromedevac operations, provides air traffic control via ground to air communications for Rotary Wing and Fixed Wing airborne operations. The course culminates on a three day FTX as a member of a Pathfinder Team.

To be awarded the Pathfinder Badge, the soldier must complete instruction in advanced scouting, tactical air traffic control in the field, aeromedevac, slingload operations, Helicopter Landing and Pickup Zones and the control of parachute operations to deliver  troops and supplies on numerous types of drop zones; the badge is awarded on completing several examinations under field conditions and a classroom environment.

1LT Chris Waldron, on his recent experience at Pathfinder School…

“Completing the three week course requires studying, at least four to six hours a night for three consecutive weeks.  Future officers wishing to attend the school should go to the school’s page on Fort Benning’s website ( The course is conducted at Fort Benning, Fort Campbell, and various MTTs (Mobile Training Teams) around the country.  I highly encourage potential students to study the handouts prior to Day 1 in accordance with the example training schedule on the website.

Study with your Pathfinder buddies. Purchase jumbo index cards and re-write the packets onto the cards. I don’t drink energy drinks regularly but you will need them to stay on point in class and be able to study late.  The course is primarily academic, with very little physical challenges.  Slingload hands-on exercises knocked out 30% of the class in week 1.  The drop zone exam knocked out another 30% of the class in week 3.  If you make it to the field you will pass; just don’t be a blue falcon. You will know your stuff at this point.  They will drop you in a remote location with a map and compass and expect you to get to the drop zone proposed by higher on your own.  You need to find the site and establish it (a lot goes into this).  Other times they will drop you right onto the HLZ/PZ/DZ.

The course is extremely rewarding and very relative to the war we fight today. I will be deploying to Afghanistan in less than 5 months and I have already been told that I will be heavily relied upon to execute Pathfinder skills.  Rigging loads to supply the firing batteries in my Battalion located at COPs away from the main FOB will be my responsibility.  I am counted on to arrive in country with the sling sets, gear, paperwork, and expertise to resupply these guys with fuel and water blivets, food, and general supplies.  As a Pathfinder your skills keep resupply convoys (your soldiers) off the roads.  Fly the goods under a Chinook rather than putting 18+ soldiers in a convoy to the push the goods over IED and hostile infested territory."

Contact me anytime:

1LT Chris Waldron
Class of 2009
Fort Carson, Colorado
G FSC Executive Officer
3/16 Field Artillery Regiment, 2BCT, 4th Infantry Division