Graduated from Air Assualt School in 1992.
It wasn’t all the difficult, but, it wasn’t all the easy either.
A Dude in Korea at Camp Greaves drew this for me from a picture my friend took right after the 12 Mile Road March that was the “graduation ceremony.” We started out with about 160 students. At the end of the course, there were about 70 of us left. Drop outs. Test failures. Injuries. All had taken their toll.
Most of us made the road march in the alloted 4 hours. One guy did it in 1 hour and 14 minutes. He was hauling ass. I think I did it in 3 hours. It wasn’t that difficult. We ran 7 to 10 miles each day over the course of that 2 week course. By the time it was over, most of us were in pretty good shape. I aced my next PT test.
After the road march, those of us who finished on time were lined up in groups of about 12 to 15 and presented with our Air Assault Badge or “wings.” Our instructor walked over to us, pinned our wings on our uniforms. Then he asked if we wanted blood wings. I think everyone opted for blood wings. Everyone in my group at any rate.
He had pinned our wings on us without the backing. The wings are placed on the graduates chest about where the heart is located. Our instructor then hit us in our chest. Right on top of the wings. The wings stick in your pectoral muscles and when you pull them out, you bleed. I bled a bit, but, not much. A couple of guys were bleeders and the blood spread over their t-shirts.
After that, you are blooded. Blood Wings!
It actually pretty cool and not painful at all. Our instructor was a pretty big dude. 6′ 6″ and about 250 pounds or so. Not fat. Muscle. When he hit those wings, you didn’t feel the pins sticking into your pec. You felt his fist hitting your chest. Took my breath away. I didn’t feel the wings sticking into my chest. Didn’t feel anything until I snatched out of my chest and started bleeding.
Air Assault School was a challenging and really cool experience.
You start by learning to rappel from a tower and proceed until you can prep equipment to be air assualted (carried by helicopters) to an objective and you finish by rappelling from a helocopters. We trained on Blackhawks. Rappelling from a helo is awesome. I loved it.
Later, I went to Rappel Master School. In that course, we started with 22 students. 7 of us graduated. When the instructor told me that I had passed the Final Exam, I almost jumped through the roof of the building. Amazing feeling of accomplishment. Especially since I was a Corporal at the time and everyone else were more senior NCOs and Officers. I was about 22 years old at the time. Hell of a great experience for me.
A buddy of mine who also went through Air Assault School sent me the following:
I got my AA badge in the spring of 1986. I didn’t think it was that hard, either – at least physically, but then again I was 18 and in shape from running cross-country and playing soccer during my senior year of high school. The most challenging aspect for me was the rigging and slingloading phase – we lost quite a few from our class for screwing that up. Very few had problems with the “pathfinder” phase – setting up LZ/DZs – and very few had problems with the actual rappelling (the guys who were scared of heights were weeded-out on the big obstacle course on Day One), but we lost a lot of students for “gigging-out”, uniforms fucked up, trying to cheat with lightened rucksacks – that sort of thing. Everyone had hyped it as “the toughest two weeks in the Army”, so maybe I had built it up in my own mind, but it didn’t phase me ’cause I loved that kind of shit. The funny thing though – it was a big deal for my unit. When I came rolling back onto school grounds at the end of that final road-march/run (2 hours/10 minutes), my team leader, PLT SGT, and company commander were all awaiting me, clapping me on the back, cheering me on. That made me feel pretty fucking proud, I’m not embarrassed to admit. lol It’s funny you brought this up, Dave – I was just reminiscing about Air Assault School earlier this week when we were talking about going rapelling in Red River Gorge. At the Ft. Campbell school we had a rule that you had to always be running anytime you were on AAS property, and every time your left foot hit the ground you had to yell “Air Assault”, so it was pretty comical to have a couple hundred students at any given time sprinting around the block talking to themselves. lol
Going back even further, my best buddy growing up was a kid named Eric Reynolds (he’s the guy who had a lung removed a few years back from what he’s convinced is Gulf War Syndrome), and we used to rappel all the time – off the roof, out the attic window, from the tops of tall trees – you name it, we jumped it. Anyhow, at Ft. Jackson they have that big obstacle/rope course called Victory Tower, which culminates in a 20-ft rappelling wall. After watching many of my BT platoon struggle down – shaking/trembling, flipping upside down, just freezing in fear, whatever – I went down in a single bound. Hit the ground, yelled “off rappel!” to my belay man, and as I was sprinting off my DSGT grabbed me and pulled me aside. Of course, my first thought was “oh, fuck, what did I do?” until he just looked at me, grinned, and said “you’ve done this before, haven’t you Daniels?” lol You know what I mean when I say that it was the first moment during the entire Basic Training stint when I thought “wow, my Drill SGT might actually be human after all”. lol It was another one of those proud moments for me.
I’d forgotten about having to yell “Air Assault” every time your left foot struck the ground. It was funny as hell. A bunch of soldiers running around; “Air Assault! Air Assault! Air Assault!” everywhere they ran. And yes, you had to double time (run) everywhere you went. There was no walking during Air Assault School.
Every school of this sort in the Army left me with a sense that I just passed a huge test. That I’d come closer to being a real soldier.
Finishing Jungle Warfighting School in Panama left me with the same feeling of accomplishment. You feel a better part of the team. You’re now able to offer more to your peers and to yourself after having graduated with a new set of skills. These schools teach real world skills. It’s not like a college course or high school wherein you pass a course but aren’t sure exactly how that course is going to help you in life.
Eventually in the Army, you’re going to deply. You’re going to war. You’re going to be sent on a mission. Many of the skills one learns are directly translatable to those endeavors. Along with the drop out rate for some of these schools which can be staggeringly high, this sense of having learned something useful is a unique feeling in my learning process throughout my life. I’ve never felt the same sense of accomplishment after having gone to a University or College course.
It’s an excellent sense of accomplishment that one feels when finishing a course of this sort in the US Army.