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Air assault training adds to Fort Bragg troops' combat skills

Air assault training, historically associated with the Army's 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., has landed at Fort Bragg, the home of the 82nd Airborne Division and its paratroopers.

Fort Bragg officials say the post's new Air Assault School will provide paratroopers with more skills they need in battle.

While paratroopers have historically learned how to jump from airplanes into combat, air assault operations focus on moving troops and equipment around the battlefield by helicopter.

Airborne training remains important because paratroopers can jump into areas not accessible by land or sea.

Command Sgt. Maj. Isaia T. Vimoto, who spoke at the school's opening Thursday, said he pitched the idea of starting a school on post last year to Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, then a three-star general and the corps commander.

The school will save Fort Bragg money because the post was spending thousands of dollars to send soldiers to air assault schools at other posts and for mobile training facilities to come to Fort Bragg to teach air assault skills, Vimoto said.

Allyn told Vimoto to make sure other soldiers supported the effort.

"I received his blessing and drove on with the mission," Vimoto said.

Vimoto, the 18th Airborne Corps' top enlisted soldier, needed to convince fellow sergeants major of the need for the school. Some supported the move, while others were skeptical.

Vimoto asked the soldiers how many times they had used their airborne training in combat. The answer: zero.

Then he asked how often they used their air assault training. Every day, they told him.

Capt. Matt Smoose, commander of the school, said the Fort Bragg school is the fifth of its kind in the Army. Classes are expected to start Sept. 18.

The 10 instructors will teach each 10 1/2-day air assault course in three phases, Smoose said.

Initially, the soldiers learn helicopter operations. Then they learn how to set up equipment to be carried by rope in a "sling load" under a helicopter. In the final phase, the troops learn how to rappel from a tower and a helicopter.

"It will be a huge training asset for all the units on post," Smoose said. "It will enhance the capabilities of units on post."

Staff Sgt. Vladimir Ilin, an instructor at the school, went through the Air Assault School at Fort Campbell about a year and a half ago. He wanted to learn rappelling but found the school also taught other important skills for soldiers.

Ilin said that on some deployments, he saw soldiers who did not know how to set up equipment so it can be carried under a helicopter.

Instructors at the school emphasized how to safely carry out air assault techniques, Ilin said.

"If a person goes through Air Assault School, they're going to know a lot about safety," he said.

Vimoto said the school will motivate soldiers and give troops needed combat skills.

In the 1980s and '90s, few soldiers wore coveted combat patches on the right shoulder of their uniforms, Vimoto said. Soldiers would dream of earning the honor while they would "train, train, train," he said.

Vimoto said that after 9/11, soldiers had numerous opportunities to earn combat patches in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Those days are coming to a screeching halt," he said.

The air assault badge worn on the left side of the chest can become a source of pride for soldiers, he said.

"That's the importance of this school," he said. "It will only cost you sweat and maybe tears, but it will pay off in the long term."

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