NEOSHO, Mo. - Nearly 200 Missouri Citizen-Soldiers began strenuous training this week at the Missouri National Guard's first air assault course at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Mo. this week.
"Zero Day' began before sun-up, and a timed, two-mile formation run came soon after. Following was a grueling, nine-station, obstacle course wherein students did double-time between obstacles whether crab-crawling or high stepping. Push-ups and flutter kicks also kept potential students at a constant pace between challenges, while each loudly shouted "Air Assault!" when their left foot touched the ground.
Only then, at the finish, were the Missouri Guard Citizen-Soldiers - as well as a handful of active duty troops - officially accepted into air assault school. Ten days of intense instruction at the Missouri National Guard's Camp Crowder is next.
"You will address all instructors as "air assault sergeant.' Anything other than that, you're dropped," said Staff Sgt. Ammon Blair, an instructor with Fort Benning, Georgia's Warrior Training Center, one of 13 Fort Benning instructors teaching the air assault course in Missouri.
During in-processing, Blair explained to students their new chain of command, with no "pulling rank' among the original 165 Soldiers who signed up the daunting course. Twenty percent of those who heard the spiel didn't make it through the initial day at Crowder.
"A lot of the senior brigades did pre-training," said Master Sgt. Richard Burns, an instructor with the 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute in Fort Leonard Wood, coordinator of the air assault course.
Burns hopes for an attrition rate of 20-to 30-percent, he said, and so far, he's close to the mark. But with a mentally and physically tough 10-day course on the agenda the graduation rate remains uncertain.
In class, students will become familiar with aircraft and aircraft safety. They will learn air assault, pathfinder and aero-medevac operations before moving to the field. There, they will learn slingload operations using cargo netting to move heavy equipment via rotary-wing aircraft.
Students will then rappel from a 12-foot incline and 50-foot tower - both with and without equipment - before rappelling from Missouri National Guard UH-60 Black Hawks.
"The confidence course and air assault school are opportunities for our Guard members to push themselves to new levels," said Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard. "This is a really exciting opportunity and reflects the professionalism and dedication of our Soldiers and training cadre."
For those who met "Zero Day' challenges, most were looking forward to more.
"Any chance I have to get better, to be a better Soldier, I will take it," said Spc. Robert Tabor, a member of Company D, 1st of the 138th Infantry Regiment Battalion in Monett.
Tabor participated in a January pre-air assault course at Fort Leonard Wood which helped prepare him for air assault school, he said.
"So far, I'm really enjoying this," he added. "I was expecting the worst."
For another trainee, the confidence-building course proved to be difficult.
"Thus far, this is pretty cool," said Spc. Bryan Samsel just after finishing the obstacle course. Samsel, who serves with Lexington's Detachment 1, 35th Infantry Division, said "The Weaver' was the most difficult station of the confidence-building course, as figuring out how to go under and over ascending and descending beams proved challenging.
"It's the same course as the one we have at Fort Benning," said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Wade, noncommissioned officer in charge of the air assault course in Georgia. "The spacing and order of the obstacles are different, but it's built to the same specifications."
Wade and his team of instructors teach four air assault courses annually at Benning and another 10-12 off-site in states that have confidence courses built to air assault standards, Wade said. About 70 percent of students are active duty military while about 30 percent are National Guard.
Sgt. Brian Wood, the Missouri National Guard's 2011 Best Warrior in the Soldier of the Year division, completed Fort Benning's obstacle course last year during competition before defeating the course at Camp Crowder during air assault. Wood has his eye on the prize: the final days of school, at Crowder, March 6-8, when students take to the air.
"I just want to jump out of helicopters," Wood said, echoing much the same thought as other students in Neosho.
After, one more task remains for air assault students at Crowder: A 12-mile foot march is held the last day of instruction.