CDT Erickson Krogh Graduates Air Assualt
- By UVM ROTC
Air Assault School
This summer, as just a freshman, I was lucky enough to attend the Sabalouski Air Assault School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was very nervous going into this whole experience because I did not know what to expect. After making my way to Kentucky, waiting in the airport for four hours, checking in with the officer in command, my journey finally began.
Negative Day 2 and 1 – Myself and two other cadets that I befriended banded together right away and really stayed by each other sides during these few days. One of the two friends that I befriended had been told by one of the cadre that he and I were the only two freshmen attending the school; we knew that the pressure was on. For those few days there was not much to do, a whole lot of hurry up and wait and because of this the anxiety among the class of 701-11 really began to elevate. On negative day 1 we then traveled to the site of the Obstacle Course (O-Course) and did a dry run through the O-Course to familiarize ourselves with all the obstacles. Later that afternoon, my buddies and I were sitting eating chow and talking about how we were going to “destroy” the O-Course and how we all thought that the cadre were “pretty nice guys”. We were so wrong.
Zero Day - Wake up was at 2am, but first formation was at 3am. That’s when we learned that those “pretty nice guys” were not actually our cadre. Our actual cadre, the Air Assault Sergeants, was waiting for us down in the staging ground. They were not, so called, “nice guys”. The first order of business was stripping us of our names, and gave us our new names that ended up being numbers. I was number 223. After a one hour smoke session in the staging grounds they ran us to the O-Course. There they decided to smoke us for another two hours before allowing us to begin the O-Course. The once easy looking O-Course was looking like a pretty daunting task now. I passed the Obstacle Course, and so did my 2 friends. Roughly 20 people failed the O-Course. Shockingly, a large number of the failures, were the NCOs in the course (there was only about 150 cadets, 20 NCO’s and 4 Officers to begin with). We then ran and passed our 2-mile run directly after the O-Course. One cadet didn’t make the time standard on the run. Since there were so many failures, they smoked us for another 3 hours after the run. During the never-ending smoke session, people would literally stand up, sound off with “I am done Air Assault Sergeant” and would fall out of the formation, eliminating themselves from Air Assault School. After we finished the smoke session we ran back to the barracks and almost everyone had to throw away that pair of ACU’s because they were so destroyed. Once everyone was cleaned off, we went to bed. Air Assault School started the next morning.
Phase 1 is only three days long, but it is a mental marathon. They smoked us for no reason; their intent was just to make us miserable, which they did. During this phase we learned all about helicopters (how fast they can fly, how much they can carry, what types of helicopters are there, etc) and were required to memorize the first 100 pages of the Air Assault Handbook. Following that, we learn certain Pathfinder ops and the Hand and Arm Signals to guide in a helicopter on a LZ. We were constantly hot and miserable; almost every day we were there it is over a hundred degrees. On the morning of the second day, we conducted a 6-mile road march to familiarize our self with the course. It was very hot; I finish 20 minutes before time, which is at 1 hour 30 minutes. At the end of Phase 1, we were then given a written test about everything we learned, as well as a practical exam on the Hand and Arm signals. Everyone at the school passes those tests.
Phase 2 was the boring phase, yet was also probably the hardest of the three. The Air Assault Sergeants had almost completely stopped the PT, now they would only smoke us if we really screwed up. Helicopters can carry equipment, called "Sling Loads" and each sling load needs to be hooked up to a certain helicopter a certain way. Air Assault graduates are qualified sling load inspectors. We spend the majority of Phase 2 going over each Sling Load over and over so we can memorize what right looks like, so when were tested on a load that was configured incorrectly we would be able to recognize the problems and call the deficiency out. After our written test on the book knowledge, we have a “hands on” test. We each had 2 minutes to find 3 out of 4 deficiencies on 4 different Sling Loads. I max all the sling loads, except for the A-22 Cargo Bag (or as the Air Assault Sergeants call it, the highest casualty producing weapon at the school) which I fail miserably. The way you are suppose to inspect this rig is by standing on the top of it. I did that. However, the way I was standing on the rig I was also standing on the deficiencies. Every test in the Army has a retest. Everyone who failed rig is dropped off at the bleachers about 200 yards away and we are given roughly 6 hours to study. When retest time came the A-22 Cargo Bag failures were the last to go, and I was last in line. As I ran to the rig, knowing I was the last to go, I was quite literally shaking in my boots. One Air Assault Sergeant was waiting for me at the rig, while the other Air Assault Sergeants were about 20 meters away watching me. As I ran towards the rig one of the Sergeants yelled to me; “223 you are the last to go. Don’t screw up.” At this point I hit a new high of anxiety. I ended up maxing the test and passed. When I got into the van to take get a ride back to the barracks it was a very eye opening experience. Half of the cadets in the van had passed, half had failed. Three of the cadets were in the back row crying because they were going home. The class is almost cut in half because of this phase. Some of the people we lost were the “leaders” that the cadets looked up to during the school, including three of the four Officers, two Master Sergeants, and the First Sergeant that had taken everyone under his wing. My friends and I made it passed the dreaded phase 2.
Phase 3, which is known as the fun phase, is also three days long. It’s the rappelling phase and by this point there are no more smoke sessions and you are basically friends with the Air Assault Sergeants. In this phase there are no written tests, but instead hands on tests, such as tying a Swiss rappel seat in 90 seconds, hooking up to a rappel tower in 15 seconds, and completing three graded (Hollywood, Hollywood Lock-In and Full Combat Equipment) rappels off the open side of the 75 foot tower. We practiced the Hollywood rappel, which is rappelling without any equipment, the Lock-In, rappelling with no equipment, but you switch your brake hands mid-way, the Full Combat which is the normal rappel with LBV, full Rucksack, and Rifle. After the day of practice, we tested the next day. I passed all my tests and my rappels without a hitch. Then they taught us how to Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System (FRIES), which is essentially going down a fireman’s pole, but instead of a pole it’s a thick nylon rope. Everyone loved doing the FRIES rappel, as it was a breath of fresh air. Everyone in the remaining class passed phase three.
Graduation Day - Graduation began with a 3:30 am wake up. We then had the final test to graduate, the 12-mile ruck march. It was an absolute monsoon and lightening storm, the Air Assault Sergeants were thinking of canceling the 12-mile ruck because 2 cadets had been killed in the month prior under the same weather circumstances when they were struck by lighting. The loop we were on was 6 miles and we were given 3 hours to complete. My buddy, they only other freshman, and I ran it together, even though it was under the worst weather circumstances, we were absolutely ecstatic, the Air Assault Sergeants called it a very “hooah” situation. We came across the finish line at a time of 2 hours and 20 minutes. Two cadets didn’t make it, one just couldn’t make the time, and the other got caught with an integrity violation. Just six hours after we crossed the finish line of the ruck, we were in the graduation field. There were probably only twenty people in the crowd to watch us graduate, but no one cared because we were just happy to be getting our wings. After we were pinned on during the ceremony, which was one of the most spectacular feelings, we were given the opportunity to get our blood wings from the Air Assault Sergeants. I got my blood wings shortly after graduation, while my two friends that started it all with me held me steady for it. Almost immediately after graduation we were shipped back to the airport where everyone tipped their hats to each other and we all went our separate ways back to our homes.
CDT Erickson Krogh