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    Oklahoma National Guard hosts advanced combat skill courses

    Oklahoma National Guard hosts advanced combat skill courses

    Photo By Maj. Geoff Legler | Pathfinder students move into position to hook-up a military trailer to a UH-60...... read more read more



    Story by Maj. Geoff Legler 

    Oklahoma National Guard

    OKLAHOMA CITY- Oklahoma’s premier military training site hosted three of the Army’s toughest special skill schools, graduating more than 200 students.

    Camp Gruber Training Site, located near Braggs, Oklahoma, has been the primary training site for the Oklahoma Army National Guard for more than four-decades. Hundreds of Oklahoma Guardsmen occupy Camp Gruber’s training areas each summer as they take part in exercises that prepare them for war.

    The men and women of the Oklahoma Army National Guard are not the only Soldiers to visit Camp Gruber this year. More than 290 Army National Guardsmen from across the nation took part in Air Assault, Pathfinder and Rappel Master Schools at Camp Gruber earlier this month. These schools are offered to the best Soldiers the Army National Guard has to offer, each one requiring a level of determination far above most Army courses. All three courses are administered and taught by Soldiers from the Army National Guard’s Warrior Training Center headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia.

    The U.S. Army Air Assault School is a 10-day course designed to prepare Soldiers for insertion, evacuation and pathfinder missions that require the use of scout, cargo and assault helicopters. Air Assault training focuses on the mastery of rappelling techniques and sling load procedures, skills that involve intense concentration and a commitment to safety and preparation.

    The Air Assault School is split into three phases, each lasting three days: Combat Assault Phase, Sling Load Phase and Rappel Phase. Before a Soldier is accepted into the school, they must complete an obstacle course and two-mile run on “zero-day.” Day one begins with a six-mile road march and personal inspection of each candidate.

    During the Combat Assault Phase, candidates learn aircraft safety and orientation, along with the principles of aero-medical evacuation, pathfinder operations and combat assault operations among several other topics. Soldiers are given a written and “hands-on” test at the end of this phase. As part of the Combat Assault Phase, students also learn about air assault planning and the basics of air assault operations.

    During Slingload Operations Phase of Air Assault, candidates learn how to rig equipment onto rotary aircraft with a sling, an operation that generally requires the loading Soldier to hook a tether to the underbelly of a helicopter hovering just a few feet above the ground. Typical loads can range anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 pounds.

    This operation is extremely precise, and requires intense preparation and concentration from all Air Assault team members. Trainees must pass a written and “hands-on” test before moving to the next phase.

    The final three-day phase, the Rappelling Phase, Soldiers receive basic instruction on ground and aircraft rappelling procedures. During this phase, students learn how to create a Swiss Seat, which is a type of rappelling harness made from a section of high strength climbing rope. They also learn both rappelling and belay techniques and complete their first rappels from the tower.

    By the end of this final phase, trainees must complete two rappels from the 50-foot tower and two rappels from a UH-60 “Black Hawk,” hovering at 70-90 feet.

    “All of the phases of the Air Assault Course are equally difficult,” said Cpl. Carl Ratcliffe, an Air Assault instructor with Bravo Company, Warrior Training Center. “They are each equally important and we see daily improvement in the students through the [knowledge] they gain.”

    According to Ratcliffe, the washout rate for the course is about 15-20 percent. “We are giving them the tools to be successful, however, the students that [do not demonstrate] attention to detail or extra personal effort are the ones who go home.”

    On graduation day, cadets undergo a 12-mile road march and receive their Air Assault Wings at the end of the march.

    “I’ve never been to a course were every single phase I thought I could fail out, but this one has challenged me through every phase, every test, every physical [challenge] we’ve had to go through,” said Sgt. Alexandria Adelman, a member of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Illinois Army National Guard.

    At the conclusion of the final road march on May 10, 153 Soldiers received their Air Assault wings, which they will wear proudly for the rest of their Army careers.

    Simultaneously to the Air Assault School, 49 Army National Guardsmen started the Army Pathfinder School. The 15 day course trained Soldiers on the proper use air mobile operations techniques.

    An Army Pathfinder is a specialist in navigating through unfamiliar terrain and establishing safe landing zones for use by Airborne and Air Assault Soldiers or Army aircraft. Pathfinders are often required to parachute into remote areas, find and prepare helicopter landing zones and coordinate with their headquarters for the air insertion of Soldiers and equipment.

    “Without qualified Pathfinders, ground unit commanders have a limited ability to coordinate with aviation support, provide terminal guidance to aircraft or establish helicopter landing zones and drop zones,” said Capt. James Sturges, the Warrior Training Center’s officer in charge of training at Camp Gruber.

    The Army Pathfinder School, which is also taught in three phases, teaches students to navigate on foot, establish and operate helicopter landing zones no matter the time of day, establish and operate parachute drop zones, conduct slingload operations, and provides air traffic control and navigational assistance for airborne operations.

    The first phase of the Pathfinder School is slingloads. The slingload instruction is more in depth and complex than what is taught in Air Assault as the course teaches a number of unique slingload techniques and delves much deeper into slingload theory.

    The next phase is helicopter landing zones, during which students learn how to use a number of aviation specific visual aids to establish safe and efficient landing zones. To successfully complete this phase, students must demonstrate the ability to set up a landing zone that is properly configured for the type of aircraft, the expected weather conditions and wind speed and direction.

    The final phase is drop zones, which are used to drop equipment and supplies into areas where helicopters cannot land. During this phase the students learn how to establish drop zones and guide aircraft onto the drop zone using both voice communication and aviation specific visual aids.

    Having completed the course, the Pathfinder students bring new tools to their commanders that will aid them during training events and real world operation. “As a Pathfinder, I can go back to my chain of command and show them that we can set up drop zones and conduct training that we could not do before,” said Staff Sgt. Preston Griffing, a member of Operations Group Wolf, Indiana Army National Guard.

    A total of 24 Soldiers received their Pathfinder Badges and returned home ready to lead their units into and out of harm’s way.

    As the Pathfinder Course was concluded, the final special skill course, Rappel Master, got underway at Camp Gruber.

    The five-day course consists of just one phase focusing on the train-the-trainer concept. Students learn how to train Soldiers at their home units on numerous rappelling techniques and safety precautions, to include equipment inspections; preparation and rigging of an aircraft and rappel tower; and rappel master personnel inspection.

    The Rappel Master course culminates with the students serving as Rappel Masters and sending Soldiers out of an aircraft from an elevation of 90 feet.

    As certified Rappel Masters, the students can provide their units with the ability to train on rappelling operations at the unit level without the need for outside trainers.

    “Both courses have been great,” said Spc. Robert Parker, a member of the Alpha Company, 545th Brigade Engineers Battalion, 45th Field Artillery Brigade, Oklahoma Army National Guard, who successfully completed both the Air Assault and Rappel Master Courses. “I have really learned a lot, especially in the Air Assault School, and then to get to move right into Rappel Master has helped to shore up the skills I learned in Air Assault.”



    Date Taken: 05.17.2018
    Date Posted: 05.29.2018 08:04
    Story ID: 277410
    Location: CAMP GRUBER, OK, US 

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