By Matthew J. Wilson
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - The Missouri National Guard is scheduled to conduct its first Air Assault Course in late February at Camp Crowder, near Neosho.
To help prepare its Citizen-Soldiers for the course that is among the Army's most challenging, the Guard's 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute recently held a one-day Pre-Air Assault Course at Fort Leonard Wood to give Soldiers from across the state a glimpse at the physical and mental demands of the Air Assault Course.
"They wanted to establish a course to train Soldiers to make sure they are capable of the Air Assault Course," said Master Sgt. Richard Burns, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the course. "Air Assault tends to be very physically demanding - it's been quoted as being the 10 worst days in the Army next to Ranger school. So we want to set these Soldiers up for success by doing this pre-course."
Burns, who lives in Nixa, said the first day of Air Assault Course is the most challenging as it is the most physically demanding.
"It's exhausting," Burns said.
Spc. Benjamin Hammon, who lives in Stockton, helped instruct the Guardsmen in the Pre-Air Assault Course. Hammon said when he went through the Air Assault Course, only 136 of more than 250 Soldiers passed.
"I think we had a 56 percent pass rate," said Hammon, who is part of Company D, 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Battalion, of Anderson.
Guardsmen opened the course with the Army Physical Fitness Test, which consists of timed sit-ups, push-ups and a two-mile run.
The Soldiers then took on the Fort Leonard Wood obstacle course where they learned the best ways for each of them to navigate each obstacle. Before attempting an obstacle, each Guardsman is required to belt out "Air Assault" and must do so again once the obstacle has been complete. The words also must be uttered each time a Soldier's left foot hits the ground during a run.
"It reinforces why they are there," Burns said of the spoken requirement.
Although Soldiers don't have to successfully complete every obstacle to pass the Air Assault Course, there are certain ones they must pass.
"The obstacle course tends to be a big leveler," Burns said. "Everyone had an opportunity to learn each obstacle and the correct way for it to be done."
Soldiers then learned techniques for climbing ropes to round out there morning.
In the afternoon, Guardsmen received a series of classes that covered aircraft identification, operations and capabilities; sling-load operations, which involves using aircraft to move vehicles and equipment; and knot tying, including the Swiss Seat, a rope harness used in rappelling.
To end the day, Soldiers completed a six-mile ruck march with a 35-pound backpack within 1.5 hours.
"They had to do a 15-minute mile with 35-40 pounds on their back," Burns said.
At the Air Assault Course, the ruck march increases to 12 miles within three hours.
Pfc. Dustin Belle, who is from Company D and completed the Pre-Air Assault Course, said he feels better prepared to complete the Air Assault Course in February.
"The course was physically challenging - you get a workout and it's a good change of pace," said Belle, who lives in Springfield and attends Missouri State University. "The classes are practical and they are not too much information being thrown at you at once, so you can actually learn from it."
Belle said the biggest thing he learned was that he needs to physically train outdoor sin the cold, since it will most likely be cold in southwest Missouri in February.
"This course gave me a taste of working in a cold-weather environment, which I've never really done before in a military setting," he said. "I'll definitely be ready."
Pvt. David Cobb, who is with Company B, 1-138th in St. Louis, said he thinks the Pre-Air Assault Course has given him a good foundation.
"This was a good opportunity to have before I go," said Cobb, who lives in Overland. "I'd rather go in knowing at least a small amount of what they are going to teach us at the Air Assault Course. At least I'll know the basics and I like that it was hands on."
Pvt. Damian De Santiago, also of Company D, said the knot tying was important for him to learn.
"I didn't know how to tie a Swiss Seat or most of the other knots - that was pretty good," said De Santiago, who lives in Southwest City.
De Santiago said he thinks he's in pretty good shape physically, but still needs to put some work in before going to the full course.
"I did figure out that I need to work out a lot more," he said.
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