Soldiers stationed in Kuwait now have the chance to earn their Air Assault wings thanks to a newly opened Air Assault Course.
The very first iteration of the course began April 3 at Camp Buehring to qualify deployed troops in air assault helicopter operations, including sling-loading and rappelling. The course in Kuwait is believed to be only the second such course outside of the continental United States; the other is in Hawaii.
Capt. Ronald Snyder, B Company commander from the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, who was in Kuwait to help run the course, said the 11-day course is broken down into three phases.
During phase one, troops undergo classroom instruction about aircraft orientation, medical evacuation, close-combat attack and assault. In phase two, students receive hands-on training on equipment to rig and inspect sling loads, where cargo is suspended under a helicopter and flown to another location. They had two minutes to identify three of the four deficiencies in the rigs.
The final phase of the course includes rappelling down towers, culminating in rappelling from a UH-60 Black Hawk hovering 90 feet in the air.
Of the 269 students who participated in the inaugural course, 213 passed and graduated on Friday. Soldiers from all three Army components — active-duty, National Guard, and Army Reserve — took the course, along with airmen and Marines.
"An air assault student becomes a benefit to the unit commander," Snyder, one of the course instructors, told Army Times.
Spc. Mitchell Steichen, an intelligence analyst with the 29th Infantry Division who deployed to Kuwait in December, said the course was beneficial to him as a National Guardsman.
"I would have to take time off my civilian job to go to something like this," he said. "Just being able to go to a school like this while you're deployed is knocking two birds out with one stone."
Graduates of the course will also walk away with sling-load certification.
"They can inspect a sling-load that's been rigged and ready to fly with an Army helicopter," Snyder said.
Maj. Iajaira Fernandez, a military police officer with the 29th Infantry Division, said the course had a mix of enlisted service members and officers.
"It was great to see that collaboration," she said. "Most of the airmen we had there were really proficient with sling operations, and we were able to pick their brains."
Students were only able to fail a portion of the course once. Those who did were given an hour to retrain, and if they still failed, they were kicked out of the course.
Since Camp Buehring doesn't have the typical infrastructure you'd see stateside, troops from U.S. Army Central had to build the course from scratch.
"This is the culmination of two years of hard work by the USARCENT staff to bring this course to Kuwait for the first time," Maj. Gen. William Hickman, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Central, said via email.
Of the 269 students who participated in the Air Assault Course, 213 passed.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Tom Wade/Army
Spc. Austin Jones, a signal intelligence analyst with the 29th Infantry Division, said having a brand-new course was helpful.
"You hear some of the horror stories about older courses being tougher to navigate," he said, referring to slippery ropes and uneven obstacles.
The plan is to run the Air Assault Course during each armored brigade combat team rotation to Kuwait. The equipment will remain in Kuwait where units can conduct their own training — whether it's on sling-load operations, air assault operations or physical fitness. It's unlikely that the course will be offered during the hottest months in the country, officials said.
"Having it here in Kuwait will increase our unit readiness, provide soldiers with a great skill and professional development opportunity that they can bring back to the Army at the completion of their tour," said Hickman.
The course in Kuwait will support Operation Spartan Shield, whose mission is to reassure the United States' partners while deterring regional aggression.
"[The course] significantly increases the abilities of regionally aligned forces deployed in support of [Operation Spartan Shield] in support of real-world missions in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility," Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for ARCENT, said via email.
Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at email@example.com .