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Air Assault

When I received a call from Capt Ryan asking if I had anyone to go on the course with me, I jumped on the occasion. I quickly got a hold of Cpl Cronk to explain to him the changing situation. After a few short days of running around, getting proper equipment and passports, we were on a plane to New York City. We landed at La Guardia International Airport, got a hold of our gear, and started our journey across NYC. We eventually made it to Grand Central Station and loaded a train to West Point/Camp Smith. We met up with our liaison – MSgt Secor – and settled into our room for the night. The next morning Air Assault kicked off.

Lt Proulx and Cpl Cronk on the US Air Assualt Crse

We loaded into MSgt Secor’s Jeep Patriot, stopped at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast which consisted of a litre of Coffee and a donut that would make a 300lb man sick. As we ate our breakfast we drove up to West Point. For those of you who have never seen West Point before, it is a sight that must be seen (add it to your bucket lists). It is a beautiful campus built into the side of a mountain, with large 200-300 year old buildings, all made/carved out of stone. We arrived at the main parade square, which was encapsulated with dormitories and classrooms, not to mention the 250+ rucksacks which littered the square. Cpl Cronk and I were extremely surprised to see a course this big. As we went through the gauntlet to sign off all of our paperwork, the clouds closed over and the rain began. It was a very fitting start to our course. A few hours later, we loaded the buses and took off to Camp Smith (a National Guard base a few miles outside of West Point). Once we arrived there, instead of settling down and getting into our shacks preparing for subsequent tasks as we would in any course we had been on before, we were quickly welcomed to the course. The Americans love to do something called “smoke” their soldiers. We were launched into a two hour series of kit inspections, burpees, pushups, squats, and holding our rucksacks above our heads. It was definitely a culture shock, not to mention the average humid 35oC degree temperatures. The next morning was called ZERO DAY. This stage consisted of a run and an obstacle course. Cpl Cronk and I finished the run in fairly good time, finishing in the top quarter. We than moved onto the obstacle course, there were twelve obstacles that we had to conquer, and the obstacles were not the issue. When moving from obstacle to obstacle, you were either lunging, or jumping the entire way. While we waited for obstacles they kept us in stress positions. Either doing burpees, pushups or jumping jacks, I remember one obstacle could only take one person at a time, so the line up was at least eighty people long, and the wait was over an hour. Quite a long time to do continuous stress positions. When ZERO DAY was finished, Cpl Cronk and I returned home feeling very good about ourselves considering we lost about 15 candidates. The next day we kicked into Phase One – Pathfinder Operations. For all in class portions from here on out, they bussed us to West Point. Phase One was an extremely interesting portion of the course; we learned all about American rotary wing aircraft and their capabilities, and just how easy it is for them to rain death from above in support of ground forces. Other things we learned were hand signals from the ground to air, and how to sight a LZ & LP. The staff always felt the need to ensure that we were not slacking off, so they would again “smoke” us at every chance they had. They also introduced us to the “overhead arm clap”. Picture doing jumping jacks, but only your arms are moving. We did about 600 a day, usually about 200 at a time. There was also a six mile road march involved in this phase, we only had 1.5 hours to complete it, and a kit check was done afterwards. Failure to complete either resulted in your removal from training and around 10 candidates did not make it past this. In total after phase one we had only lost about 25 candidates. Phase Two kicked off with a bang, we learned how to sling load equipment from helicopters. Going into this phase, I was a bit worried, in Canada, sling load masters are required to do all sorts of math involving angles etc, and the Americans taught us to keep it simple. They had already done the math, and found out all of the angles and just engrained that into our brains, there was very little thinking outside of the box, however finding defaults in the loads for the test proved difficult for some (including me). A deficiency could range from a side mirror not collapsed, to ¼ inch webbing being used instead of 550 cord. I missed one small deficiency on 1 of 4 loads and had to wait all day to retest along with 200 other candidates. Only 12 people on the entire course passed this phase, and Cpl Cronk was one of them. After all the testing was complete in this stage we had the opportunity for CH-147 Chinook and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to fly overhead and for us to actually hook sling loads up to them. In this phase a majority of the training failures were removed from training here, we lost about 30 after this phase. Phase Three was the most rewarding, we were on the rappel tower for three days straight, the Americans did not like the way Cpl Cronk and I rappelled as it was too “dangerous”. The way we teach rappelling in Canada makes us reach the bottom faster, the Americans do it at much slower rate. I felt at home during this phase as we were told that we were very confident on the tower, where other people couldn’t even make it to the top. This was a simple portion of the course, and it ended with us jumping out of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from about 80 feet in the air. The final test was a 12 mile (roughly 20km) road march in less than 3 hours; it also included a kit check at the end. This part of the course is fun to think back on, the path was lined with soldiers who had been removed from training, so they could watch us finish, it was also mostly uphill, and when we weren’t going up hill we were running. Cpl Cronk and I finished in 2:45, and completed our kit check – Air Assault was now finished and we were successful. The same can not be said for the West Point Cadet next to me who was missing a PT shirt, he was removed from training because of it, on the last day after he had finished the 12 mile march. Finally we went onto grad parade, had our “blood wings” pinned into our chest, and we were on our way back home. Air Assault was over, and a few short days later we were on our way to the Arctic for Operation Nanook 2010.

Lt Matt Proulx

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