FORT DRUM — More than 100 soldiers, aviators, and student military cadets learned the ropes about rappelling as a part of the post’s air assault school Tuesday.
Their training was part of the third and final phase of the challenging 10-day course, which helps students work effectively with aviation resources. Earlier phases focused on aircraft operations and sling loading equipment, which come following a rigorous physical fitness test.
“With us being in a mountainous environment over there, you never know where you’re going to be at or what you have,” said staff Sgt. Joshua A. Dozanti, who led the rappel phase of the course Tuesday.
From the start of the course last week, the class number dropped from 165 to 106 students, who called out “Air Assault” loudly as they moved between stations.
“They have to want to be here,” Sgt. Dozanti said.
The students started Tuesday morning by learning how to tie a seat harness properly, a skill many had not learned when rappelling during their basic training and one they needed to learn quickly. First tested while going down a 12-foot tall slanted wall, the students were immediately sent to try rappelling from the top of a 34-foot tall tower.
“It’s a lot of knots you got to get right,” said Andrew D. Metz, an Air Force ROTC cadet from Syracuse University.
On his hands and knees only feet from the edge of the tower, Sgt. Edward A. Monczynski grinned and tapped his knuckles on the ground prior to tying himself in to the ropes with the help of an instructor.
Sgt. Monczynski, who does explosive ordnance disposal work at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., with the 22nd Chemical Battalion, 48th Chemical Brigade, admitted some rare nerves about his initial descent.
“It doesn’t really happen all that often, other than carrying fused ordnance,” he said on the ground.
Air Force Maj. James D. Miller, an air liaison officer based here with the 20th Air Support Operations Squadron, said he kept his trust in what his instructors told him when dealing with worries about descending the tower.
“It can’t be any worse than dropping bombs from 30,000 feet,” he said.
Surrounded by many service members and cadets at least a decade younger than him, the 38-year-old said his classmates hadn’t mentioned the age difference.
“Nobody’s made any geriatrics jokes yet,” Maj. Miller said.
Following their initial descent from the tower, the students then completed several additional descents without wall support and descents while equipped with different gear.
Other skills taught were how to stop a fall from a person making a descent.
The course usually calls for soldiers to rappel from a Black Hawk helicopter, but with the portions of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade that fly the aircraft away on deployment, that portion was canceled for the course.
The air assault course will end about 2 a.m. Thursday with a 12-mile ruck (backpack) march that students will have to complete in three hours.
The post will hold the school nine times this year, a small uptick from the six held in 2012.
Video from Tuesday’s rappelling training can be found at http://wdt.me/L9RwUK.