Pfc. Michael J. Davidson, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, rappels off a high tower during a 10-day training class for the Air Assault School at Fort Hood.
Spc. Brian Jolley, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, rappels off a high tower during a 10-day training class for the Air Assault School at Fort Hood.

By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD — Four months ago, Fort Hood’s Air Assault School was an empty field.

Under the direction of III Corps and Fort Hood officials, the lot at the end of T.J. Mills Boulevard has become an outdoor classroom that required even Fort Hood’s fittest soldiers to work for their wings Wednesday.

“It’s always the first jump off the tower that gets you,” said 2nd Lt. Brittany Campbell, 21st Cavalry Brigade, slightly breathless following her rappel off the school’s five-story tower. “Just losing contact with the known surface.”

But, Campbell said of the rappel, which came after eight days of boot camp-style and classroom-based training, “It’s easy money after that.”

Fort Hood’s first air assault class in two decades began early last week. A team of air assault trainers from Fort Benning, Ga., came to Fort Hood to lead it.

The school was the brainchild of III Corps and Fort Hood Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Coleman Jr., who earned his Air Assault Badge wings in 1980.

The aircraft involved may have changed to Chinooks and Black Hawks from older models since then, he said, but the training is equally valuable. Individual soldiers learn personal courage and skills sets that “make the unit more lethal.”

Air assault skills also are particularly suited to the terrain in the military’s remaining long-term engagement, Afghanistan, he added. Coleman said Fort Hood’s goal is to establish its own air assault training team and offer one class each month, with so many soldiers back in garrison from the ending conflict in Iraq.

Fort Benning and Fort Campbell, Ky., are among a small group of Army installations with their own air assault schools and training teams. Select other posts have air assault school facilities and rely on traveling training teams.

Some 300 soldiers and Fort Hood-based Air Force personnel applied to the school. Sixty were weeded out during initial physical fitness and other screenings, and many more fell out during the school’s notorious “Zero Day.” It began with a run through a 3,500-foot-long, nine-obstacle course, including “The Tough One,” a 20-foot rope climb followed by another 15-foot ascent and net descent.

Candidates continued to fall out of the course during the next six days. By Wednesday, 165 remained.

Despite the school’s physical demands, Campbell and several of her colleagues said the hardest part was its memorization-heavy sling load operations phase. At the end of the phase, candidates had two minutes to identify a deficiency in each of four different sling load scenarios, in which heavy loads, weapons and even vehicles are attached to helicopters to be lowered into combat or remote locations.

“I messed up on one and had to redo it,” said Sgt. Robert Anderson, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade. “There was kind of a lot of pressure on you. It’s all about attention to detail, that’s what they keep telling you.”

Sgt. 1st Class James Williams, III Corps, helped lead the construction of the school and helped lead its first class. He called the 10-day course “grueling” but said leading it is the best job he’s ever had.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of something like this,” he said.

Candidates rappel from helicopters today. The school culminates Friday with a 12-mile ruck march. For more on Fort Hood’s first Air Assault School, read the next Fort Hood Herald.