Instructors rappel with students from a 34-foot tower during the Air Assault Class on Fort Bliss. Photo By Stephanie Santos
Ten days of building mental and physical endurance. Ten days of concentration and commitment.
Ten days of rigorous training that began with 271 Service Members on Day 0 and ended with a total of 160 graduates who earned the coveted Air Assault wings March 11 during a graduation ceremony for the Air Assault Course at the 1st Armored Division Parade Field.
The course brings a series of challenges: Attention to layout detail, hands-on and written exams, rappelling, a full obstacle course, and timed sling-load inspections. Leading up to the morning of graduation, students could not celebrate their success until they each completed a rigorous 12-mile foot march with a 35-pound ruck in less than three hours.
“We push each Soldier physically and mentally. They learn the importance of detail. There is no rank here…a Pvt. can help a Sgt. 1st Class and a Spc. can help a Capt.,” said Air Assault Instructor Sgt. Clinton Sargent. “The focus is never on rank, but on what each service member can do to help each other.”
The course stressed maintaining standards and discipline at all times. Students agreed that Day 0 allowed no room for error, and one layout mistake could get them sent back to their unit.
Even after 21 years in the Army, Command Sgt. Maj. Jose Palomino assigned to 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, said the course was intimidating, but he had to meet the promise that he made to his fellow Soldiers.
“I have to lead by example. I’m doing this for my Soldiers and yes, it’s scary to be the oldest person here,”said the 42-year-old leader.
Palomino felt that the air assault training built confidence and the class became closer while learning how to work together. He noted that every student was held accountable, and there was no chance to redo something that was incorrect.
“As leaders, we are never done with training, and we can’t sit in our comfort zone,” he said. “This course taught us to remember the basics and what it is to be a Soldier, remain resilient and never quit. I put myself through this to show that it is never too late to develop yourself.”
After rapelling from the 34-foot tower, Pfc. Lillyanna Puig assigned to the 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, said a lot of her motivation came from proving to herself that she could push herself to the next level. Puig was one of four female service members to graduate from the course.
“A lot of times as females in the Army we put ourselves in a gender box, but we are all Soldiers. We have to stay motivated,” she said. “I want to achieve as much as possible in my Army career.”
Instructors concurred that although the course is a physical shock, its benefits prepare Soldiers to better train their forces, build more confidence and be an example to their peers.
Building ‘esprit de corps’ is how Air Assault Course Chief Sgt. 1st Class Mitchell Levart defined the intense instruction. He stressed that the school opens new doors for all military personnel, and can serve as a basis for career progression.
“It’s always been my dream to run an air assault school, he said “I feel like I am doing something that they will always remember.”
In response to Class 004-19 being the last class to graduate from Fort Bliss, Staff Sgt. Matthew Heckman explained that the class values and new strengths developed will still travel with each person regardless of where they are stationed in the future.
“It’s rewarding to know that we have affected these graduates in a positive way and knowing they will make a difference,” said Heckman, who was named instructor of the cycle. “Even though the class here has ended, the Air Assault Course legacy will continue to live on.”