By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
After two years in the making, Fort Hood's first full-time Air Assault School candidates completed the grueling, 10-day course this week.
"It's been a lot of fun and good experience," Pfc. Cameron Shively, 21, said Monday as he prepared to rappel 75 feet from a hovering Black Hawk in the course's penultimate challenge. (The final challenge was a 12-mile road march beginning early Tuesday, after which remaining soldiers received their wings).
Continuing, the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier said, "I'd definitely like to show the other guys in my troop what I've learned."
Through a series of physical challenges — including the notoriously difficult obstacle course on the course's "zero day" — in addition to classroom-based and hands-on training, such as sling load operations, the school prepares soldiers to drop into remote areas of operation where aircraft can't typically land.
Although the soldiers were the first to cycle through Air Assault on a regular rotation, the school actually graduated a test field of soldiers in October. Following that class, the school gained official certification from the Army, in February. In becoming a full-time school, it joins the ranks of just a handful of other installations across the country to offer Air Assault: Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Drum, N.Y., and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
During the trial course, instructors from Fort Benning helped Fort Hood instructors lead the course.
Now, however, the school is run by its own, organic cadre of instructors, assigned to III Corps.
Cadre 1st Sgt. James Williams, who helped stand up the school, said Monday that he couldn't wait for the class' graduation.
The cadre is already planning on welcoming a new crop of students at the end of the month, he added.
"It's like 'Groundhog Day' after that," Williams laughed.
Soldiers in the course came from across Fort Hood, with soldiers from Fort Bliss in El Paso and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., participating, as well.
The course also attracted Air Force personnel stationed at Fort Hood, including Staff Sgt. James Eberts of the 9th Air Support Operations Squadron.
Eberts, 23, said he was attracted to the course for its rigor and its usefulness in theater. As an airman who fights alongside soldiers, he said, it was likely he could encounter such challenges during a future deployment.
"In my two deployments to Iraq, operations were somewhat slow, but in Afghanistan there's plenty of (opportunity for) stuff like this," he said.
That Fort Hood has become a training destination for service personnel from outside of III Corps affirms its position as a premier training and deployment platform, said III Corps and Fort Hood Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Coleman.
Coleman, who earned his Air Assault wings in 1980, spearheaded the move to re-establish a standing school at Fort Hood about two years ago. Air Assault courses haven't been offered at Fort Hood in two decades.
Fort Hood's top noncommissioned officer said bringing the school back to Fort Hood will grow better soldiers, who will return to their units and share skills learned.
"Not only do our soldiers grow individually, but collectively," he said. "I think when you tackle this kind of training, it brings you closer together, and that's why you see the enthusiasm continue, all the way back to the unit."
The school will operate 10-12 courses annually, said Coleman.
"I think the interest is there," he said.
"I think the fact that we're still in Afghanistan shows there's need there.
And I think that as long as we have the ability to put boots on the ground in remote in places where helicopters will be part of that, this training will be the culminating factor."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.