Air Assault! Warrior Training Center Brings Course to Camp Atterbury

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Super Investing

By Staff Sgt. Matt Scotten, Atterbury – Muscatatuck Public Affairs

EDINBURGH, Ind. – After 10 days of having their minds, bodies and collective resolve put to the test during the Air Assault Course at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, over 100 Soldiers and Airmen were awarded the prestigious Air Assault Badge.

Students learned how to apply helicopters to various combat operations such as combat assaults, aircraft orientation, sling-loading and rappelling in the Air Assault Course, which is considered by many to be one of the toughest courses the American military has to offer.

“Attention to detail; that is what this course is about,” said Sgt. Dustin Knapp, air assault instructor from the Warrior Training Center at Ft. Benning, Ga. “The students here learn the importance of paying attention to everything and I think they get a lot from that.”

Soldiers at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center negotiate obstacles in the confidence course portion on zero day of an Air Assault Course.
Soldiers at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center negotiate several obstacles during the confidence course portion of zero day during an Air Assault Course being conducted here.

The course starts with the infamous “zero day”, where students are evaluated for strength, agility, endurance and mental stamina by way of a 2-mile run followed immediately by an obstacle course and other various physical training sessions throughout the day. Between each obstacle on the course, there are various exercises that students must perform.

If a student does lunges from obstacle one to obstacle two when they were supposed to bear crawl or crab walk, they are informed upon reaching the new obstacle that they did the wrong exercise and that they must go back and do it again.

Soldiers perform callisthenic exercises between obstacles in the confidence course portion on zero day of an Air Assault Course at Camp Atterbury.
Soldiers perform various callisthenic exercises between obstacles during the confidence course portion of zero day during an Air Assault Course at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center.

“We formed up in the morning and they just immediately started smoking us,” said Spc. Amie Billstrom, combat medic from a Forward Surgical Team in Madison, Wis. when asked about zero day. “We had to double time to get to the area for the two-mile run, and we were getting smoked the whole way. It was pretty rough that first morning.” Standing only 5 feet 2 inches tall, Billstrom had to work hard to make it through zero day. “Those obstacles are not designed for short people. Zero day was nerve-wracking. Looking back, though, that was the best day I’ve had here. It feels really good looking back at what I made it through. I felt delighted at the end of the day.”

Soldiers at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center negotiate obstacles on zero day of an Air Assault Course.
Soldiers at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center negotiate several obstacles during the confidence course portion of zero day during an Air Assault Course.

After completing zero day, students continue on to Phase One of the course. During this phase, students must learn hand and arm signals for aircraft orientation, aircraft identification, and the capabilities of each of the Army’s fixed wing aircraft. The phase concludes with a 50-question written test and a practical examination of hand and arm signals.

Lt. Nicholas Hoffman from the Plans, Analysis and Integration Office at Camp Atterbury’s Installation Support Unit, said, “I think there was a lot more bookwork than most people expected, but that was good.”

The bookwork doesn’t end in Phase One. In Phase Two, students have to learn the ins and outs of sling load operations, in which military equipment is bound securely and then slung to a rope, allowing it to hang underneath a helicopter in flight. Students are required to know every detail of what to look for on each type of sling load, taking note of what items get taped, what items are tied with cotton webbing, which ones are tied with nylon parachute cords and what kinds of equipment is used to hook each load to various types of helicopters.

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Dombey, unit mobilization assistant with 205th Infantry Brigade, Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, drags his tired body through dirt and sand in the confidence course portion of zero day of an Air Assault.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Dombey, unit mobilization assistant with 205th Infantry Brigade, Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, drags his tired body through dirt and sand during the confidence course portion of zero day during an Air Assault.

“Phase Two was definitely the most challenging part of the course,” said Hoffman. “There was so much to remember.” Private First Class Joel Detamore, logistics specialist with Camp Atterbury’s Installation Support Unit, echoed Hoffman’s sentiment. “There were a lot of numbers and figures to remember in sling-loading. It was hard.”

After students pass Phase Two, they move on to Phase Three, where students learn rappelling. Phase Three is typically considered the most fun phase of the Air Assault Course.

Air Assault Course students at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training learn air assault skills, including rappelling.
Students of the Air Assault Course held at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training learned various air assault skills, including rappelling.

“I’m pretty sure this is why most people want to come to this course,” said Detamore. “This is by far the most fun we’ve had here.” In rappelling, students learn how to tie their own harnesses out of rope, rappel down walls and out the sides of helicopters. The culminating event of the phase is when students actually get the chance to rappel out of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.

“A lot of the guys love jumping out of the helicopter,” said Knapp. “They get to rappel out of the helicopter from about 80-90 feet in the air. It’s pretty fun for them.”

In the final event of the rappelling portion of the Air Assault Course at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, students rappelled out of a UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter from 90 feet in the air.
In the final event of the rappelling portion of the Air Assault Course held at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, students rappelled out of a UH60 Blackhawk helicopter from roughly 90 feet in the air.

After completion of rappelling, the last thing left for students to complete is a 12-mile road march, which must be completed within three hours. Once the course is completed, students get to wear the Air Assault Badge for the rest of their careers. It is annotated in their military records, can count towards promotions, and is often a source of bragging rights among peers.

“The best part of the course and what brings most guys here in the first place is just the badge. Everybody loves the Air Assault Badge,” said Knapp. According to Knapp, students walk away with much more than a sharp-looking badge and some promotion points, though. He said they walk away with valuable knowledge and a sense of accomplishment.

Students of the Air Assault Course at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training learned various air assault skills, including rappelling.
Students of the Air Assault Course held at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training learned various air assault skills, including rappelling.

“What makes being an instructor so awesome is when you are working with the students and you witness that ‘aha!’ moment when they suddenly understand the material,” said Knapp. “That’s pretty awesome for the instructor to actually get to see that moment. It’s my favorite part of the job.” The Warrior Training Center travels throughout the country holding Air Assault Courses at various military installations.

At the Air Assault Course, Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, students rappel 90 feet out of a UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter.
In the final event of the rappelling portion of the Air Assault Course held at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, students rappelled out of a UH60 Blackhawk helicopter from roughly 90 feet in the air.
More than 110 Soldiers and Airmen were awarded the Air Assault Badge at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center after completing the grueling 10 day Air Assault Course.
More than 110 Soldiers and Airmen were awarded the Air Assault Badge at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center after completing the grueling 10day Air Assault Course here.

By Staff Sgt. Matt Scotten, Atterbury – Muscatatuck Public Affairs