Defenders gain air assault skills
By Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney, 403rd Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 19, 2017
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Imagine standing at the open door of a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with its four blades spinning deafeningly above and the ground 90 feet below -- and then stepping over the edge. So far, three members of the 403rd Security Forces Squadron have done just that as the culmination of their training at the U.S. Army’s Air Assault School.
The 10-day course is designed to prepare graduates for insertion, evacuation and pathfinder missions that call for the use of multipurpose transportation and assault helicopters. This training focuses on the mastery of rappelling techniques and sling load procedures, skills that involve intense concentration and a commitment to safety and preparation.
“Air Assault school provides our members with valuable training and enhances mission effectiveness with an opportunity not found anywhere else,” said Tech. Sgt. Richard Potter, 403rd SFS assistant security forces action officer. “It enhances career progression and longevity for our junior members and sets the tone for what the 403rd Security Forces Squadron is all about.”
The course is broken up into six segments – day zero, day one, a combat assault phase, slingload operations, a rappelling phase and graduation day.
On “day zero,” before a member can even begin the 10-day school or be considered an air assault student, they must complete an obstacle course and a two-mile run. Tech. Sgt. Justin Hayes, the first 403rd SFS fire team member to attend Air Assault School, said his class started day zero with 284 people, began day one with 240 people and only graduated 208.
Hayes completed the course at Camp Edwards, near Cape Cod in Massachusetts, in August while Staff Sgt. Emily Fowler and Senior Airman Jonathan Kling, also 403rd SFS fire team members, completed the same course at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii in September. They began the course with 129 people and only 70 graduated.
“For me, it was cool to see all four Airmen attending the course (an Air Force chaplain and a tactical air control party specialist were also students in the course) complete what the Army says is a tough school,” Kling said.
On day one the members completed a six-mile road march with a 35-pound rucksack and a rifle within 1.5 hours followed by strict and in-depth inspection.
“The biggest thing I took away from the experience was attention to detail and how important that is to our day-to-day mission,” Fowler said.
Kling echoed her comments and added, “the smallest detail that you might not think is important can lead to the success of the mission.”
During the combat assault phase they learned aircraft safety and orientation, the basics of aeromedical evacuation, pathfinder operations and combat assault operations among several other topics. Slingload operations focused on how to rig equipment onto rotary aircraft with a sling, which involves hooking a tether to the underbelly of a helicopter hovering just above the ground with extreme precision. And in the rappelling phase, the members learned the basics of ground and aircraft rappelling procedures, rappelling twice from a tower and once from a Black Hawk helicopter.
“It went from one of the scariest moments of my life to one of the coolest in about five seconds,” Fowler said.
On graduation day, members completed another ruck march with full gear, this time they had three hours to complete 12 miles at the end of an already taxing course.
“It wasn’t just physically challenging, but mentally challenging as well,” Fowler said. “It gave me the opportunity to conquer unknowns and fears.”
“I think it is a good skill for security forces members who at times may work with Army or Marines that often use sling loads to move equipment and supplies on the battlefield,” Hayes said. “Just the benefit of living and working closely with the Army gives us a good perspective to their practices.”
Potter said that the squadron hopes to continue sending defenders to courses like Air Assault School on a regular basis to give as many members as possible the opportunity to learn new skills they can use during future deployments.
“It shows who you are as an Airman,” Kling said. “Even if you don’t think you can complete something like that, you can.”