Pfc. Olivia Newberry, a student of the Fort Hood Air Assault School, prepares to rappel down the 50-foot tower Feb. 12. This marks the first of many rappels for Newberry during the training.

Staff Sgt. Tomora Clark

The Army Air Assault badge is obtained through 10 days of fast-paced training may not seem so harsh to some but under grueling weather conditions and long hours, trainees are pushed to their maximum potential — physically and mentally.

“The Great Place” is home to one of the Army’s many Air Assault schools. The school’s primary task is qualifying soldiers on air assault missions using rotary wing aircraft.

Soldiers undergo three phases of training.

During the first phase of training known as the combat assault phase, soldiers learn orientation and aircraft operations like helicopter landing zones and markings, aero-medical evacuation procedures, and Pathfinder hand and arm signals while completing a two-mile run and obstacle course, said Capt. Stephen S. Ruff, the commander of the Fort Hood Air Assault School and the Phantom Warrior Academy.

“When the students come to me, we (the instructors) are teaching the second phase of training ... sling load operations,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jared K. Winegarden, the phase two team chief. “A sling load is any cargo that we are physically attaching beneath a rotary wing aircraft.”

Winegarden said the final phase of training is proper rappelling techniques, where students learn how to tie a conventional hip rappel seat in less than 90 seconds, perform several rappels from a 50-foot tower and rappel from a height of 85 feet from a Black Hawk.

Being a part of the Air Assault School holds different meaning for the school’s cadre.

“Being the commander of such a great school is awesome and a very unique experience,” Ruff said. “I feel very blessed because I have an opportunity to command the hand-selected, top-notch cadre and the ability to work with a new batch of students each month; it’s great.”

“I enjoy teaching students each cycle,” Winegarden said.

Not only does the cadre enjoy being a part of the Air Assault School but their hard work and dedication reflect in lessons learned by the students.

“The instructors did exceptionally well teaching the material,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas K. Spinks, a graduate of the course and first sergeant of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “I’ve been to various schools throughout my military career, and the instructors here have been the most professional instructors I have ever had.”

Spinks said the way the course is structured; the instructors had to be meticulous making sure you are paying attention to the block of instruction, because attention to detail is important.

Although the last day is graduation day, students complete a 12-mile foot march with a full combat load and weapon in less than three hours to be awarded air assault wings.

“This course was very challenging but now I feel like I can lead by example and motivate my soldiers to go through this course,” Spinks said.

“To see the trials and tribulations that each soldier goes through is truly amazing; we remind the students not to give up,” Ruff said.

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