CAMP DODGE, IOWA — It was the opportunity (and thrill) of a lifetime for more than 100 soldiers and airmen from across the country and around the world on Thursday morning at Camp Dodge as they completed one of the final phases of their air assault training: rappelling from a UH-60 helicopter.
For the last week-and-a-half, Camp Dodge has been playing host to a mobile Air Assault School. A team from the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia is leading the training. Its the first time in four years the school has been held in Johnston. After a week of classwork and rappelling practice on towers, trainees took on the real thing while hovering 90 feet above the ground in Johnston.
180 soldiers and airmen from across the country took part in the training, along with two soldiers from Kosovo. Air Force Staff Sergeant Enrique Bandera traveled from his home base in New Jersey to complete the training school. He says the strength of the US military is its interdependence on the different branches and this training exemplified that.
“Being able to come out and do this stuff with Army, being trained by the best of the best. Our cadre is world class, they’re experts in everything they do. Learning from them is a huge fortune,” Bandera says, “They treat us good, we treat them good. They’re training us up. We’re making sure the total force is fully capable across the military, ready to accomplish the mission.”
Along with the dozens of US servicemembers in the training were a pair of soldiers from Kosovo. Lorik Ramaj says that while his nation’s military doesn’t have the same equipment that the US does, their forces are growing and it is important for them to be mission ready. “In the future it is better to be prepared when we take possession of the equipment and helicopters to train new guys over there,” he says.
Ramaj agreed with his American counterparts on another thing – the best part of training, by far, came Thursday morning. “The best experience, I would say, was repelling from the helicopter. I’ve never done that before. Good stuff.”
Sergeant Keijuwanaky Seales says not only was the helicopter rappelling fun, but also helped her conquer a fear. “I was scared of heights – deadly scared of heights. The air assault sergeants have been great, they’ve been patient, they say ‘trust your equipment’,” Seales says, “… with each repel I am more and more confident in my equipment and being in flight.”
After completing the jump there is one more big test before graduation day – a 12-mile “ruck” hike. Seales says that is her only focus right now. “To graduate from this course will be amazing. We’ve been here nine days but it feels like a month,” Seales said, “Its not over until I cross the finish line on the 12 mile ruck … then I can proudly say I did everything it took to be air assault qualified because I went through the ringer. This course will put you through the ringer, mentally and physically, like no other.”