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Army Times

March 20, 2006

Guard soldiers have their own air assault class

By Matthew Cox

Times staff write

National Guard soldiers now have more chances to get air assault training than ever before.

The Guard’s Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga., opened a permanent air assault course in late January.

Attached to the Infantry Center at Benning, the Warrior Training Center was established in April 2004 to help meet the growing training needs of Guard soldiers who regularly deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s definitely not the Guard of the past,” said Sgt. Maj. Tom Siter, center commandant.

The new air assault course at Benning, complete with a 60-foot rappel tower and obstacle course, is designed to serve the south-eastern portion of the country, but it’s only a portion of the center’s program for training Guard soldiers in helicopter operations.

The team of 13 air assault instructors acts as a mobile training team for Guard units around the country.

The Army’s primary air assault schools at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Drum, N.Y., are open to all soldiers — active, Guard and Reserve — but they are not as practical for Guard units, said Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Conaway, who runs the air assault course.

“For what it cost to send about 40 soldiers to Campbell, our whole team can fly out” to conduct training for an entire unit, Conaway said.

Air assault training is a 10-day course that teaches soldiers the art of helicopter warfare. Soldiers learn how to rappel, first off of towers, then out of a helicopter. But the skills they are more likely to use include how to set up landing zones and how to rig equipment to helicopters for transport.

Students learn to “sling-load” everything from water buffaloes to howitzers.

The course also includes plenty of physical training such as running, taking on an obstacle course and marching 12 miles.

“You gain a lot of knowledge about aircraft, and with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that is the primary mode of transportation,” Conaway said.

Conaway’s team, which also trains active units, usually trains four National Guard classes of about 210 soldiers each per year.

“We have had as many as 330 soldiers show up and try to get into a course,” he said. “It is a pretty desired badge.”

The new air assault course at Benning graduated its first class in mid-February, Conaway said, but it’s still unclear when the next Guard course will be held.

Being able to offer schools like air assault to soldiers is also a “good recruiting and retention incentive,” said Col. Lee Durham, senior Guard adviser to Fort Benning.

“Those are the types of challenges soldiers want.”