Training sergeants with the Missouri National Guard's Recruit Sustainment Program prepare ropes on an 18-foot rappel tower they recently built at the Festus armory. The tower will be used to help train new Guard recruits before they go to basic training. (Bill Phelan photo)
FESTUS, Mo. - A new training opportunity for Missouri Army National Guard recruits was recently installed at the Festus Armory and used for the first time on Saturday.
Noncommissioned officers with the Guard's Recruit Sustainment Program were able to build an 18-foot rappel tower on the armory grounds.
"To my knowledge, no other National Guard armory in the state has one," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Edmonson, an RSP coordinator.
Recruit sustainment gives new Guard recruits a chance to drill once a month at a nearby armory before they attend Army basic training, thus giving them a leg up on soldiers who did not go through the program. As RSP drills are supposed to be as real to basic training as possible, the addition of the rappel tower is a huge step in that direction, according to 1st Sgt. Timothy Davis, the senior noncommissioned officer in charge of Guard recruiting in the St. Louis area.
"Rappelling is something each recruit will have to learn in basic training so I'm very excited to give these recruits an opportunity to overcome some fears before they go to basic," Davis said. "We develop a lot of honor graduates from the Recruit Sustainment Program and overcoming fears before basic is part of the reason for that."
While soldiers will face a 44-foot rappel tower in basic training, the skills they mastered on the smaller tower in Festus will prove valuable to both that soldier and their drill sergeant.
"The biggest thing to conquer is the initial drop off the wall, whether it's 10 foot or 100 feet," Davis explained. "So if you can conquer that fear here, that makes training you easier for the drill instructor during basic training."
Construction of the rappel tower was no simple feat. In addition to a lengthy waiting period for its approval, garnering the materials was a challenge.
"AmerenUE donated the utility poles for the supports and Hopson Lumber in De Soto gave us a discount on the lumber and hardware," said Edmonson. "We also got donations from St. Louis Home Fires in Ballwin, other Ballwin businesses and the recruiting staff."
Recruiters also enlisted the help of the Festus-based 220th Engineer Company in the rappel tower construction.
"It all really stunned me the way it came together," Edmonson said. "We were really at an impasse until all these folks helped out."
Spc. Amber Brewer, of south St. Louis, and Pvt. Logan Napoli, of House Springs, were among the RSP soldiers of G Company who put the tower to the test during drill on Saturday.
"You have to trust the instructors and the equipment they've given you, but it's definitely a leap of faith leaning back and stepping off that wall for the first time," said Brewer smiling. "But it only makes sense that if we can do it here we can do it at basic training."
"It was a really good experience," added Napoli, 18, a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Lindenwood University, where he is studying criminology and military science. "This builds confidence before basic training in that it builds trust in your fellow soldiers, your equipment and yourself. I'm looking forward to standing out at basic training and this training will help."
In the not too distant future, Davis hopes to add a cargo net to the rappel tower and make it part of an RSP obstacle course.
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Pvt. Logan Napoli, of House Springs, puts the new rappel tower at the Festus National Guard Armory to the test during RSP drill on Saturday. (Bill Phelan photo)