The Army Air Assault School is dubbed as the “hardest 10 days in the Army” by some. Depends on who you talk to I suppose. This article post is just me sharing my experience with you and I will describe the course as it is broken down (by phase/milestone). A disclaimer I must include is that I attended the Warrior Training Center Air Assault School, not the Active Duty school held at Fort Campbell. However, it has been my conviction that the WTC Schools, which are run by the National Guard, are just as hard if not harder than the Active schools. My good friend said that Pre-Ranger, which is run by the WTC was so much worse than actual Ranger School…
Entry Phase: Now, this isn’t necessarily what it is called, but that is what I am calling it. After you in process paperwork wise, it is game on. You will in-process and make your way to your barracks, etc. The atmosphere will be calm, cool and may fool you that the course will be a cake-walk. I urge you to stay vigilant and begin to prepare yourself for the next day. Drink water, eat good and stretch. As I recall, the next morning began full-blown with a nice lengthy “smoking” session. Air Assault Sergeants (AAS) beat you down, let you sip water, then beat you down again. After the smoke-session you will roll right into your APFT. That’s right…they will push you to physical exhaustion, then give you your PT Test. My advice, do NOT go to AAS just making the minimum on the APFT. Make sure you can easily get 80% on each event and give yourself some wiggle room. Once your pushups and situp events are done, you will run 2-miles to the obstacle course. There will be an AAS standing at the entrance to the O-Course and if the time expires before you get there…well, you are done with Air Assault school… PERIOD.
The O-Course is pretty standard as with all of the them. The only exception is that between each event, you will be getting smoked. I won’t lie, I have no shame in telling the world that I threw up on the O-Course from a combination of chugging water and being physically spent. Suck it up…Drive on. Once you complete this first day, you are IN! Look at it like a try-out and you WANT to make the cut. Trust me, it is all down hill from that day on.
Air Assault Phase: Now that you have been “initiated” it is time to learn about Air Assault Operations. These days are long, classroom oriented days that are peppered with random smoke sessions and other physical challenges. You will learn everything about every single helicopter the Army has, learn about Air Assault Operations and how to conduct them and you will also learn how to ruck…and I mean ruck. Our classroom was only about a city block away from the barracks but we always took a 4-5 mile detour on our way there with a ruck weighing 35+ lbs. Take time each night to study as there will be some testing going on that you MUST pass to continue.
Sling Load Phase: Things began to slow down for me, at this point. After passing all the Air Assault exams and learning what I needed to about the Army helicopter, we began to receive more in depth classroom instruction on the various sling loads and sling load configurations that are used to transport equipment via helicopter. While in my opinion, the written exam was harder than the hands on testing, some others found it to be quite the opposite. Some people have better memories than others. My suggestion is to take every single opportunity that the AAS instructors give you to study and have your hands on the mock-up sling loads. You do this, you will be set up for success. During the exams, try to remember certain things using acronyms or other mental triggers. It is pretty difficult to memorize all the information. During the hands on inspection, use a systematic approach, always start and end the same way as you did when you practice. Also, TOUCH EVVERYTHING! There are often small, subtle differences that the AAS instructors bank on you missing during your inspection. Touching every single item as you inspect it guarantees that won’t happen to you!
Rappel Phase: Once you have exhausted your mental capacity and brain dumped everything, it is time to get physical learning how to rappel from a helicopter….true Air Assault style! You will complete numerous rappels from the towers to prepare for this. My tips are to: 1) let the equipment do the work and TRUST in the equipment (otherwise you will exhaust your arms and shoulders) 2) listen to your instructors 3) have fun. Don’t be afraid of the heights or cantilevered edge of the tower, which most of us were not used to prior to AAS. During the rappel phase, you will also receive instruction on the basics of setting up a HLZ and how to land an aircraft. You will have to memorize all the hand and arm signals to test out for this. Pretty simple, but still manages to snag a few students. At the end of this phase you will, depending on the school and availability of aircraft, rappel from a UH-60 Blackhawk. Let me tell you, this is a great experience and something that will get your adrenaline flowing. One of the fondest memories from the course for sure!
Graduation Day: Well, you’re all done…you passed every test, practical and physical challenge they threw at you and it is time to graduate, right? WRONG! AAS is known for its rough and tough 12-miler that goes down on graduation morning. You have to complete the ruck in less than 3-hours or all you did to finish the course was for nothing…you’ll be a NO-GO and go home. Big tips here for this event: 1) Eat the morning of. Snag a few snacks from the DFAC to eat in the middle of the night before 2) Pack your ruck the RIGHT way…heavy items on top, soft lighter stuff closer to your back and low. 3) Hydrate, HYDRATE HYDRATE!!!! 4) Keep some Jolly-Ranchers in your pocket to suck on while you ruck…adds energy and breaks up the monotony of the walking 5) Prep your feet prior to stepping off…if you know you have hot-spots then duct tape them…use foot powder and good boots. 6) Use a buddy…this helps, ruck with him, talk and keep each other motivated…and lastly 7) PACK EXACTLY WHAT IS ON THE PACKING LIST…this is a no BS tip…they will drop you from the course if you cross the finis line, dump your ruck and are missing an ear plug. I promise you, I saw it happen. AAS is all about attention to detail!
FINAL THOUGHTS: AAS was probably my favorite of the schools I have been to (i.e. Airborne, etc.) even though it was rough. I met a lot of great peers and was extremely excited to get my “blood wings” at graduation. Just remember, that AAS is all about proper planning, attention to detail and sucking it up when things get rough.