Korea-based soldiers attend grueling course to earn their air-assault wings

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 19, 2017

CAMP MOBILE, South Korea — Black Hawk helicopters yo-yoed up and down at a semi-abandoned post near Korea’s tense Demilitarized Zone Thursday, as more than 150 soldiers trained to earn their air-assault wings.

The three-phase class takes students through grueling obstacle courses, road marches and the ins and outs of helicopter operations. The badge the soldiers earn proves they are able to plan and execute an air assault from a helicopter, said Cpl. Carl Ratcliffe, one of the instructors who came to Camp Mobile from the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga.harp

Instructors harp on students about the basics of soldiering before they’re even allowed near a Black Hawk, Ratcliffe said. Forgetting something as simple as a sock can get you kicked out of the course.


“Attention to detail is key,” he said. “They think they already have that skill. They show up here, they’re confident and we throw it right back in their face because they realize they don’t have what they really need.”

Every mistake in the air is potentially a deadly one, said Ratcliffe, who added that everyone in the air-assault community “always needs to be on their game.”

Only 178 of the course’s 240 students remained on Thursday for the final test — a three-hour, 12-mile ruck march. Those who pass will get their air-assault wings on Friday.

The course is tough but necessary for soldiers who want to become leaders, said 2nd Lt. Kyle Walters, an executive officer for the 2nd Infantry Division’s headquarters company.

“I might be in charge of running an air-assault operation such as this,” he said. “Learning the little things like rappelling, how the aircraft works, movements, close-combat attacks [are necessary] to run a successful air assault.”

Spc. Walter Tengey of the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade said he never imagined he’d be sliding off the edge of a helicopter.

“When I see that wing on my left shoulder, I will know what I did and I will look back and apply it to the rest of my military career,” he said.

Twitter: @MarcusFichtl


An air-assault instructor keeps two students from being blown away by rotor wash at Camp Mobile, South Korea, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.

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