10th Mountain Division ‘Patriot’ Soldiers complete course, earn air assault wings
Fort Polk Public Affairs Office
FORT POLK, La. (Feb. 7, 2020) – Sixty-eight 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers received their air assault wings during a ceremony Jan. 31 at Fort Polk’s Warrior Gym.
The Patriot Soldiers earned their coveted wings following a two-week intensive course that culminated in a 12-mile foot march that had to be completed in three hours or less.
“This group has been unique,” said Sgt. 1st Class Reag Wood, lead instructor of the Mobile Training Team from the 10th Mountain Division Light Fighters School at Fort Drum, New York. “The attrition rate was low.”
Of the 85 Soldiers who began the stressful class, 68 successfully completed the course.
“We attribute the low attrition rate to a strong NCO presence in class,” Wood said. “Also, as a pure organic brigade training together, they tended to knuckle down more and help each other through the fight.”
Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, joined the class for its foot march at 3:30 a.m. Jan. 31.
“This morning, at 0330, while many of the people in this gym were in bed, these 68 Soldiers in front of us were out getting ready for a 12-mile road march,” Frank said to the crowd of family members and fellow Soldiers who packed Warrior Gym for the ceremony. “When the air assault cadre said ‘Go,’ they took off, not walking, but running – every one of these guys. This was the fastest 12-mile foot march that I have ever seen. The last Soldier came in at 2:49 — that is unbelievable.”
Frank said earning air assault wings is the mark of a professional Soldier.
“It (air assault) is one of our mission-essential tasks for our brigade combat teams and battalions throughout the Army,” Frank said. “For 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain, there are only six tasks. One of them is to conduct air assault operations. That’s how important this badge is and the skills that these Soldiers have learned during the past two weeks.”
In explaining the difficulty of the class, Frank compared air assault training with airborne training.
“Airborne School teaches you to fall, to do a PLF (parachute landing fall),” he said. “But with Air Assault School, you’ve got to break out the books. It is one tough course. As these 68 graduates head back to their units, they’re going to leave class 20-02, and fall back into every formation across this installation.
“This is when the Army starts to rely upon the skills they learned over the past two weeks,” Frank continued. “They can plan an air assault, establish a DZ (drop zone), assign a chalk, rig a load, and conduct a medevac. We do this in combat. Your leaders will call on you to step forward and lead the air assault. Your units and all of us are counting on you to knock it out of the park.”
Col. Kendall J. Clarke, 3rd BCT commander, gave credit to the unit’s leaders for the success of their Soldiers in the class.
“No one graduates from an Army school without engaged leaders,” Clarke said. “No one does it alone. On the front end of Air Assault School, our leaders invested in each one of the candidates to make sure they had all the skills and capabilities to go to the course and be successful. Our NCOs are fantastic. They provide the purpose, direction, motivation and inspiration. They are great role models, teachers and mentors.”
First Lt. Paul Peterson, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, was one of the graduates. He said the course was tough.
“It’s an honor to earn these wings,” he said. “It was a fun, challenging course. I learned a lot that I did not know. The leadership was fantastic. And I finally got a little chest candy for my uniform.”
In addition to the foot march, graduates learned sling load operations and how to rappel and belay from helicopters. Frank said the expertise gained by the students would benefit the entire Army.
“I think our leaders across the installation selected the right Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers to attend this class,” Frank said. “You could tell that by the caliber of Soldiers who were on the final phase, the foot march, this morning. They knocked it out faster than any foot march I’ve been on in my career in the Army, and it was a testament to the Soldiers we saw here today.”
Unlike many schools where students go back to their rooms or homes at the end of the day and relax, Frank said Air Assault School is a demanding course.
“There is a lot of personal preparation after you’re done for the day,” he said. “If you don’t go home and study what the instructors have provided you, you’re coming in the next day and failing the next phase. Our leaders did a very good job in preparation, and these Soldiers understood that.”
Frank said he enjoys joining Soldiers for the 12-mile foot march.
“There is nothing like doing a final 12-mile foot march as the culminating graduation event of any of our Army schools,” he said. “There’s nothing like the esprit de corps from these guys when they finish. I always love being a part of that.
“I always want to be competing with the top guys in the formation.”
Graduate Spc. Hernan Villasenor had his wings pinned on his uniform by his wife, Isabella, and grandfather-in-law Douglas Rhodes, an Army veteran.
“I actually tried to attend Air Assault School when I was in the Army, but there were no slots available for my unit,” Rhodes said.
“But after hearing how tough the school is, I don’t know that I would have made it through. I am so proud of him.”