Approximately 160 citizen-soldiers from the Iowa and Minnesota Army National Guards graduated from a 10-day "Air Assault" certification course at Camp Dodge, Iowa earlier this month.
Successful completion of the course results in an individual qualification badge, one that features a distinctive winged-helicopter design, and that is worn on both dress and duty uniforms. Graduates possess the necessary skills for optimal use of helicopter assets in support both training and combat operations.
Using slings and nets, soldiers learned to safely package and attach supplies, equipment, and even ground vehicles to hovering helicopters. In addition to these "sling-load" operations, soldiers also participated in multiple obstacle, rappelling, and distance challenges.
Crews and UH-60 "Black Hawk" helicopters from the Iowa National Guard’s Company C, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation based in Boone, Iowa provided aviation support.
The three-phase Air Assault course starts with a grueling "Zero Day," in which soldiers are weeded out based on a 2-mile run followed by a 9-event obstacle course. Only after surviving Zero Day are attendees addressed as "Air Assault" students. Approximately 250 soldiers started the Camp Dodge course; more than 80 did not complete Zero Day.
On Day One, Air Assault students conduct a 6-mile road march, after which their prescribed rucksack loads are inspected for completeness and serviceability.
In Phase One, Air Assault students learn aircraft basics, including how to signal and guide helicopters from the ground. In Phase Two, students learn how to sling-load equipment. Students are validated on loading Humvees, "water buffalo" trailers, and A22 cargo bags. In Phase Three, students learn to harness and hook themselves up to ropes, then rappel safely to the ground from a helicopters hovering at 80 meters above the ground. On the final day, students conduct a 12-mile foot march in three hours or less.
Skills and familiarity with helicopter operations pays off in both peace and war. During its 2010-2011 deployment to Eastern Afghanistan, Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division conducted a brigade-sized air-assault mission in Laghman Province. The event was labelled "Operation Bull Whip."
At the completion of the Camp Dodge course, Maj. Gen. David Elicerio, commander of the 34th Inf. Div., headquartered in Rosemount, Minn. pinned Air Assault badges on soldiers. Graduates included:
- Staff Sgt. David Bloyer, the distinguished honor graduate for the class
- Sgt. Ahren Blake, the honor graduate for the class
- Spc. Carl Thompson, the soldier with the fastest foot-march time (12 miles in two hours)
- Pvt. 1st Class Sam Applegate, the youngest soldier in the graduating class
For news coverage of the course, including video, click here and here.
Additional You Tube video appears here.
Editor's note: This post was compiled by the Red Bull Rising blog based on multiple Iowa Army National Guard news and photo releases. All photos are by Staff Sgt. Chad D. Nelson, Iowa Army National Guard.