In the summer of 2021, I had the opportunity to attend Air Assault School at the United States Military Academy at West Point from July 21 to August 3. Air Assault School is described as the Army’s 10 hardest days of training as compared with the other specialty schools, including the United States Army Ranger School. During those 10 days of training, both cadets and soldiers are challenged to their limits, physically and mentally.
It starts with day zero, which begins with a timed 2-mile run right into a grueling “Smoke Session” led by the Black Hat instructors. Smoke Sessions can include anything from eight-count pushups to bear crawls around a formation. Next you must complete an obstacle course and a written test. If you don’t pass day zero, you don’t move on. Once I completed and passed day zero, the anxiety and stress of being at Air Assault subsided, and I knew I would be able to complete the rest of the training.
Air Assault training is divided into three phrases, each of which presents a key physical event and a written test that must be passed to continue to the next phase. During phase one, the key event was day zero with its obstacle course, and cadets and soldiers must complete the first of the written tests. In phase two, the big event was a hands-on test of sling-load operations: military equipment is loaded into a huge “sling,” which then must be hooked onto the bottom of a military helicopter. There is also a 4-mile run, and participants must complete the second written test. This is the phase that the most people will fail due to the high intensity and pressure.
Halfway through the training, everyone—cadets and soldiers—wake up early and complete a 6-mile ruck—a hike while wearing a backpack–in under an hour and a half.
The third and final phase is the most enjoyable and relaxed. To pass this phase, one must rappel off a wall and then out of the UH-60 (Blackhawk) Helicopter. My favorite part of the training was rappelling out of the helicopter, while it hovered roughly 90 feet above ground and then completing the training with a 12-mile ruck with all my buddies.
Air Assault teaches soldiers self-discipline and the importance of attention to detail. To be successful, you must listen to and watch everything that is going on. Throughout Air Assault School, the soldiers carry items from a specific packing list, and their gear can be checked at any time. This required them to be prepared and ready at all times in case a layout is called by the instructors.
My experience at All Assault School was like no other I have had with Army ROTC. During my freshman and sophomore years, I was on the Ranger Challenge and Sandhurst Team for the Steel Battalion. The training for Air Assault far surpasses the training I experienced with that rigorous and competitive team. I am grateful to have earned a slot from my battalion to compete at such an intense specialty school, and that experience has shaped me into the person and soldier I am today. It honed my mental sharpness and physical readiness. Air Assault instilled self-discipline and attention to detail in my work ethic and mindset.
I am proud to say that she is the first female from the Steel Battalion to receive a slot to Air Assault School and graduate with my wings.