Being a part of the renowned 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) affords many Soldiers unparalleled opportunities on a global stage. For Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, it was an opportunity to perform in his second inauguration in an honor guard cordon – this time, as noncommissioned officer in charge of the ceremonial unit.
Taffoya was in charge of a six-man cordon, which serves as an official escort, for President Donald J. Trump at the Capitol before his presidential swearing-in ceremony Jan. 20.
“We are the first Soldiers that he interacts with, which is really cool,” Taffoya said. “It’s just six Soldiers and me.”
It’s a pretty big deal to the NCO from Montclair, California. His first inauguration was President George W. Bush’s second in 2005, where Taffoya served in an honor cordon for the entire day.
“It’s a big deal to me, being just a kid from California coming from an extremely modest upbringing,” Taffoya said. “And then to be in two presidential inaugurations, making that history, just for my family alone, is really awesome. But to be [a part of] the representation of the free world, showing the world that this is what right looks like. This is how you change power. It’s just really cool. It’s a big thing, and it’s not something I take lightly.”
More than 2,000 Soldiers from the Old Guard were tapped to support the 58th Presidential Inauguration. The Old Guard’s Presidential Salute Battery, the Fife and Drum Corps, as well as Army cordons were among the performers. Service members participating in the inauguration represent a joint force, which includes Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen.
Every Soldier from the Old Guard who has a role in the presidential inauguration has a responsibility to get every detail right.
“The magnitude of the operation was immense,” Old Guard commander Col. Jason T. Garkey, told Army publications. Garkey participated in President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997 and Bush’s second one in 2005. “In previous inaugurations, I participated in specific parts, but as the regimental commander responsible for Joint Task Force Ceremony, I had visibility on every detail involving the regiment.”
Garkey was pleased with the inauguration planning.
“The complexity and amount of detail developed into the plan was extremely impressive,” Garkey said. “The seamless integration of our ceremonial and contingency tasks capitalized on every aspect of the regiment. It validated everything we have worked toward since this past summer.”
The military’s contributions to the presidential inauguration have evolved into a centuries-old tradition. The U.S. military has participated in inaugurations since April 30, 1789, when members of the Army, local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted President George Washington to his first inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in the nation’s first capital in New York City.
Taffoya takes pride in the Old Guard’s historical role in such a momentous event like the inauguration.
“One thing in common through all 58 inaugurations is … us ─ from the start with President George Washington until now,” Taffoya said. “The Old Guard has always been a part of inauguration. We have been a part of that foundation, and America has seen us. To be part of that representation is a big deal. It’s an honor. Just being in the unit is cool, but to be able to have the president 1 foot from you, passing you by and being able to render honors to him is just surreal.”
Every NCO in the Old Guard strives for perfection in performing ceremonial duties, and discipline is necessary to serve. Soldiers in the Old Guard must pass the demanding Regimental Orientation Program, a three-week course designed to teach new arrivals the subtle distinctions of the uniforms of the Old Guard, rifle movements and marching that is unique to the elite precision unit. Maintaining ceremonial composure is critical to the unit’s Soldiers.
“My discipline didn’t start when I showed up to the Old Guard,” Taffoya said. “It started with my first squad leader, who instilled the discipline in me as a Soldier in 2002. I do the same for my Soldiers. Whether it’s here or at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the one thing that carried through is discipline and enforcing it as an NCO.
“That’s the biggest thing because everything else is a breakaway of discipline,” he said. “You could have all of the Army Values, but if you don’t have the discipline to use them or to implement them, you don’t have any of them. We in the Old Guard take it seriously because we are representing our Army. If we don’t represent the Army right, then we are not doing Soldiers justice, whether we are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
NCOs such as Taffoya recognize that all of the painstaking attention to detail at the Old Guard helps make for better leaders.
“You have to be on your game,” he said. “This is like our Super Bowl. It comes once every four years, so it’s all hands on deck. A lot of the whole regiment is bringing their ‘A’ game so you don’t want to be that one guy who doesn’t bring his and ends up being the sore spot. I appreciate my subordinates, my squad leaders and team leaders … [because] they know what this involves. They understand that they, too, are making history for their families and legacies.”
─ Acting 101st Airborne Division commander Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe’s reply to German forces on Dec. 22, 1944, the day Germans demanded an immediate surrender in Bastogne, Belgium.
By MARTHA C. KOESTER NCO Journal
However, among all the actions taken by one of the most highly decorated divisions in the U.S. Army, none means more to Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division than the classic retort of acting division commander McAuliffe to German forces in 1944. To 1st Sgt. Omar Mascareñas, of Fort Campbell’s Dental Activity and an officer of Fort Campbell’s Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, “Nuts” best illustrates the tenacity and bold mentality of the 101st Airborne Division.
“It tells you what we are like. We don’t believe that we could be defeated or that we have to surrender to anybody,” he said. “We’re going to make the mission happen, and that’s a good example of how you should continue regardless. He was surrounded; there was really no way, and for him to say that. …”
In December 1944, the 101st was tasked with protecting the critical transportation hub of Bastogne, Belgium, which was under siege. There, German forces issued an ultimatum: Surrender immediately or face annihilation from a blitz of German artillery. Yet, McAuliffe refused with his classic reply, boosting the sagging spirits of American Soldiers. The siege was broken by the division on Dec. 26, 1944.
“[The 101st Airborne Division] will find a way,” said Sgt. 1st Class Erin L. Trudden, student detachment NCOIC, Medical Company Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. “We will figure it out as we go.”
“When I first got here, I was assigned to the 101st Sustainment Brigade, the youngest of the brigades here,” said Master Sgt. Peter A. Mayes, a former member of the 101st Sustainment Brigade Lifeliners and public affairs NCO for the division. “As Col. Michael P. Peterman, the 101st Sustainment Brigade commander, said, ‘It is our parachutes that basically got those Soldiers into Normandy.’ That’s part of my history.”
“I just always go back to the verse in the division song, ‘We have a rendezvous with destiny; our strength and courage strike the spark that will always make men free,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Ramirez, NCOIC of perioperative services at Fort Campbell’s Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. “It’s that strength and courage of the 101st that just ‘strikes that spark’ to give hope to people who don’t have freedom. I think the 101st has displayed that many times in history and will continue to do that in the future. It’s one of the great privileges of serving here.”
About the Screaming Eagles
Units such as 1st Brigade Combat Team, “Bastogne;” 2nd Brigade Combat Team, “Strike;” and 3rd Brigade Combat Team, “Rakkasans” have helped build the strong heritage for the NCOs of the 101st Airborne Division.
“You find that with a lot of the 101st Soldiers, this is not just a division, it’s the division,” Trudden said. “There are very few places [around Fort Campbell] where you don’t see the [101st] flag. Everything around here is ‘Eagle this,’ ‘Eagle that,’ ‘Screaming this,’ ‘Screaming that.’ It’s very much embedded, and when you say Fort Campbell, it’s an automatic association with the 101st.”
“This is ‘Screaming Eagle Country,’” Mayes said. “No matter where you go in this town, you are going to see Abe [the Screaming Eagle on the insignia of the 101st Airborne Division] somewhere. That is what this place is all about. This is Abe’s home. This is Abe’s world, and we’re proud of it.”
The division was first activated Aug. 16, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, La. In his first address to Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, commander Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said that though the division had no history, it had “a rendezvous with destiny,” and the division was to be called on when the need was “immediate and extreme.”
Those words ─ “a rendezvous with destiny” ─ would prove so inspirational that the words would be incorporated into the division’s song, “Screaming Eagles.”
“Just think about what that says,” Mascareñas said. “Every time a commander gets ready to deploy, they always say they are getting ready for another ‘rendezvous with destiny.’ It’s just a perfect phrase for it.”
“I have been a Soldier for a long time, but when I went downrange with [the 101st Sustainment Brigade], that’s where my mettle met the road,” Mayes said. “That’s my pride.”
As Screaming Eagles, “we understand where we came from; we understand how iconic our leaders are,” Mayes said. “Those are giants. We are standing on their shoulders, and we have to live up to their legacy. Anything less would be unacceptable.”
However, none of the groups of the 101st Airborne Division garners as much attention as the legendary 506th Infantry Regiment or “Band of Brothers,” which traces its roots back to World War II. The regiment made its mark multiple times in history, whether parachuting into Normandy or capturing Adolf Hitler’s outpost, his Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.
“I ask a lot of my new Soldiers if they have seen the ‘Band of Brothers’ miniseries,” Mascareñas said. “If they answer, ‘No,’ a sergeant has to take that Soldier to go watch it. When they come back, the Soldier says, ‘Wow!’”
Air-assault operations are a significant part of the 101st Airborne Division’s history, and training is critical for NCOs. Thousands of Soldiers and leaders assigned to the division train each year at the Sabalauski Air Assault School, widely known as the 10 toughest days in the Army.
“When my Soldiers graduate [from Air Assault School], you see a transformation,” Mascareñas said. “When you get [the wings on your uniform], you just moved a mountain. I have been to Airborne School, and I have been to Air Assault School. Air Assault School was probably the best training I received. Just the way it was run, it was so professional ─ ‘dress right dress.’ It’s all about standards and attention to detail, and that’s where you learn those things.
“All that tradition spills out to the tenant units, like my unit. A few months ago, my unit achieved a 52-percent Air Assault-qualified [rate], which is unheard of in a dental company. You won’t find that anywhere else. But why did we do that? Because we feel we are a part of the 101st, and we want to be a part of that tradition.”
The 101stAirborne Division has turned out its fair share of high-profile leaders, both officer and enlisted.
“You’re looking at men who are considered legends at what they do,” Mayes said. “Everyone knows retired Maj. Gens. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, John F. Campbell, David H. Petraeus, current Command Sgt. Maj. Alonzo J. Smith and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin L. Hill. We all know those names. When you think of the Army of the past 10 to 12 years, that is this Army.”
NCOs look to Smith, the current 101st Airborne Division command sergeant major, for inspiration, members of Fort Campbell’s Sgt. Audie Murphy Club said.
“A good example is Smith,” Mascareñas said. “He is my hero. That’s who I want to emulate because of what he went through. He was injured and was out of commission for a while. But to be able to come back, take the historic 101st downrange and come back with more history? Wow, he’s awesome.”
While on a combat operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June 2010 with the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Smith’s vehicle was struck by rebels firing an 82 mm recoilless rifle, which severely injured his leg. Smith successfully underwent multiple surgeries and fought depression.
Another 101st Airborne Division role model who gained recent Armywide attention was Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson, the first Soldier with an amputated limb and prosthetic to graduate from the Air Assault School in April 2013.
Robinson, a combat engineer with A Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, lost a portion of his lower right leg during a mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October 2006.
“I don’t know of any other Soldier who could have done what he has done,” Mayes said. “The 10 toughest days [in the Army], and this guy just showed everyone he is more than capable of handling it.
“[That shows] the true spirit of what the 101st Airborne Division is all about ─ when you have that kind of imagery, that kind of passion: ‘I’m not giving up. My leg injury did not stop me. I own it instead.’”
The 101st Airborne Division’s traditions honor the Soldiers who served before, with events such as the Week of the Eagles to present the best of the division and the Run for the Fallen, which is held on post to honor service members and is hosted by the division.
“One of the things I like when I go to the ceremonies on post is I see many of the veterans who were in the 101st,” Mascareñas said. “Just to talk to these old Soldiers brings a chill. It makes you want to be a better Soldier when you come to work because it’s not a regular unit. This is an historic unit, and when you come to work you just feel like you want to do better.”
The tenacity of the 101st Airborne Division on the battlefield is well documented and admired by many NCOs.
“I have a godson who is 12 and is a World War II fanatic,” Trudden said. “When I told him I was [making a permanent change of station] to Fort Campbell, he said, ‘You are going to the 101st?’ It was like I had been chosen for God status or something. ‘Do you know what they have done?’ he asked.”
Above all else, the resounding theme of the 101st Airborne Division is one of family unlike that at other installations, said Mascareñas, who was once told he could not shop at a shoppette at another installation because he had not earned his Airborne badge.
“Here [at Fort Campbell], it’s like, ‘Hey, why don’t you have your wings? Come on, let me show you how to get them,’” Mascareñas said. “I’m probably the 1 percent of this post [working in a dental clinic], but they treat me like I’m the 90 percent guy [in an Air Assault unit], as if I was a first sergeant in the 101st. That’s what I like about it ─ how they treat you like family and how they make you a part of the team.”
“I think if you come here and you drive around this post, and you’re not moved or if it doesn’t make you wear your uniform with more pride and more satisfaction and a desire to do better, then you are in the wrong business,” Trudden said. “If so, you need to go away; you need to go get an application from McDonald’s, because they probably need a fry guy, and it just might be better suited for you than this unit.”
● Aug. 16, 1942: The 101st division is activated at Camp Claiborne, La. In his first address to Soldiers, commander Maj. Gen. William C. Lee says that though the division had no history it had “a rendezvous with destiny.” The phrase becomes part of the division’s song and motto.
● June 6, 1944: Screaming Eagles become the first Allied Soldiers to set foot into occupied France in the Cotentin Peninsula. The division plays a major role during D-Day operations by clearing a path for the 4th Infantry Division to land on Utah Beach; the division eventually links the Utah and Omaha beachheads and liberates the city of Carentan.
● Sept. 17, 1944: The 101st jumps into Holland for Operation Market Garden. The division fights for the liberation of the Netherlands and spends 72 days in combat.
● December 1944: The 101st is called to action during the Battle of the Bulge. The critical transportation hub of Bastogne, Belgium, is under siege, surrounded by enemy forces who demand an immediate surrender. Acting division commander Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe refuses, with his classic reply of “Nuts!” The siege is broken Dec. 26, but fighting continues until January 1945 as Allied units reduce Nazi advances in the Ardennes Forest.
● Spring 1945: The 101st liberates the Landsberg concentration camp and captures Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden.
● Nov. 30, 1945: The 101st is inactivated eight months after the German surrender.
● September 1956: The 101st is reactivated at Fort Campbell. The activation of the 101st and the 82nd airborne divisions marks the culmination of the Army’s efforts to establish airborne operations.
● September 1957: President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends elements of the 101st Airborne Division to safeguard the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students trying to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
● July 29, 1965: The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division arrives. The remainder of the 101st deploys in December 1967 and makes history as the largest and longest airlift operation directly into a combat zone. The division is involved in combat operations from Saigon to Quang Tri province. In August 1968, parachutes are shed in favor of helicopter-borne operations. While in Vietnam, the 101st Airborne Division fights 45 operations and 17 Screaming Eagles earn the Medal of Honor.
● February 1974: Commanding general Maj. Gen. Sidney B. Berry signs an order authorizing wear of the Airmobile qualification badge. On Oct. 4, 1974, the 101st is redesignated the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which it maintains today.
● March 1982: Elements of the 101st are sent to the Sinai Peninsula for peacekeeping operations. On Dec. 12, 1985, 248 Screaming Eagles are killed in a plane crash in Newfoundland as they were returning home from a Middle East assignment.
● August 1990: The division is deployed to the Middle East in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. On Jan. 17, 1991, the division fires the first shots of Desert Storm and destroys Iraqi radar sites. A cease-fire comes Feb. 28, 1991, and the Screaming Eagles return by May 1.
● 1990s: The division supports U.S. and United Nations peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.
● November 2001: In response to terrorist attacks on 9/11, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (Rakkasans) deploy to Afghanistan. The Screaming Eagles participate in combat operations including Operation Anaconda in the Shoh-I-Khot Valley, which dealt a major blow to the Taliban and al-Qaida.
● February and March 2003: The division deploys to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom and fights its way to South Baghdad. In April 2003, the 101st Airborne Division is ordered to northern Iraq and conducts the longest air assault in history. Screaming Eagles also conduct the first province election in Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay.
● Late 2005: The division deploys to Iraq again and assumes responsibility for northern Iraq. The Screaming Eagles help train Iraqi soldiers and transition major parts of the country to Iraqi units.
● Fall 2007: The division again deploys to Iraq. In February 2008, it deploys to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In June 2010, the entire division returns to Afghanistan to help restore Afghan people’s confidence in government and train Afghan National Security Forces.
The song for the 101st Airborne Division is titled “Screaming Eagles” and was written by Col. Samuel R. Loboda.
We have a rendezvous with destiny.
Our strength and courage strike the spark
That will always make men free.
Assault right down through the skies of blue;
Keep your eyes on the job to be done.
We’re the Soldiers of the hundred-first;
We’ll fight till the battle’s won!
One of the most recognized insignia in the Army, the Screaming Eagle patch made its official debut in 1942. The patch featured a white eagle’s head with a gold beak on a black shield topped with a crescent shaped Airborne tab. Its origins have roots in Wisconsin history.
In 1861, Chief Sky of the Chippewa tribe captured a bald eagle near the Flambeau River in northern Wisconsin. Chief Sky traded the eaglet for a bushel of corn to Daniel McCann of Eagle Point, Wis. McCann then sold the bird for $2.50 to Capt. John E. Perkins, commanding officer of a militia company called the Eau Claire Badgers. The unit renamed themselves the Eau Claire Eagles.
When the unit entered federal service, it was redesignated as C Company, 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The mascot was adopted by the new 8th Wisconsin, which was nicknamed the Eagle Regiment.
Soldiers named the eagle “Old Abe” after President Abraham Lincoln and assigned the bird as a member of the regimental color guard. During the Civil War, the Eagle Regiment carried Old Abe into battle, screaming at the enemy while tethered to a wooden shield. Old Abe was wounded twice during battle, though not seriously.
After the inactivation of the Eagle Regiment in 1864, veterans donated Old Abe to the people of Wisconsin. The eagle frequently traveled around the nation as part of veteran reunions and special exhibitions. In 1881, Old Abe died from the fumes of a fire near his aviary in the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.
Upon his death, Old Abe was preserved and exhibited in the Capitol building’s Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall until a fire ruined the display in 1904. A few of Old Abe’s feathers survived and were preserved by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison.
It was in 1921 that the legend of “Old Abe” and the 101st unit designation merged. The 101st Division of the Organized Reserves was born, with headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis. In 1923, a new black version of a 101st Division insignia was approved for the unit. The former version featured a white eagle over flames on a royal blue shield.
The 101st Division of the Organized Reserves disbanded in Aug. 15, 1942; the next day the 101st Airborne Division was born. Old Abe was still on the insignia, but it was now topped with the Airborne tab.
Two other eagle mascots, “Young Abe” and “Bill Lee I,” were soon acquired by the division, but Young Abe died in 1943, while Bill Lee I died in 1956.
It’s called the 10 toughest days in the Army, and nobody knows the challenges of the celebrated Sabalauski Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Ky., better than its NCO instructors.
“It’s a very proud feeling being an NCO instructor. But it’s also a lot of pressure,” said instructor Staff Sgt. Donald Davenport. “You always have to be on top of your game because we are the focal point of the 101stAirborne Division. It takes a lot of composure and perseverance to be at the top of your game, day in and day out.
“We are limited on mistakes as NCOs. We have to be the most professional at all times. Yes, everyone slips, but the group of instructors we have here I would definitely say are the most professional NCOs I have worked with in my career.”
The Sabalauski Air Assault School is a U.S. Army Forces Command unit that trains Soldiers assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, other Army units and FORSCOM service members. Courses offered at the school include rappel master training, fast rope insertion/
extraction (FRIES), special purpose insertion/extraction (SPIES) and Pathfinder training.
Though air assault training is offered at other Army installations, Fort Campbell’s school was the original.
“We [emphasize] here at the schoolhouse [to] every air assault student that is stationed at Fort Campbell that this is a job requirement here,” said Sgt. 1st Class William McBride, chief instructor. “In order to [be successful] at Fort Campbell, you must be air-assault qualified. You have to have that drive and determination to earn that Air Assault Badge in order to work here and to lead Soldiers in this division.”
Earning the coveted Air Assault Badge is dependent on discipline. Attention to detail will bring students success, but rank will win them no favors from Day 0 to Day 10 of training, instructors said.
“From the lowest-ranked private to the top general, we have all ranks come through Air Assault School,” McBride said. “They all get the same disciplinary treatment. We don’t care what their job is … we don’t care who they know. They are in an Army school. Discipline has to be enforced on everyone. [Students] are told to get in formation, they are told to march, they are told to sound off. That happens with everyone, regardless of their rank.”
Perhaps no Soldier illustrates this point better than recent graduate Col. Michael W. Minor, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division rear detachment, who graduated air assault training in June 2013 alongside his son, Cadet Isaac A. Minor, a student at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
“They were treated the same, just like everyone else,” said Staff Sgt. Zilvinas Lapelis, a senior instructor. “It’s amazing because [Col. Minor] is a leader and his son is just another Soldier, following in his father’s footsteps.
“The big picture is [Soldiers] following leadership’s footsteps. It’s imperative. As a leader, you have to be air-assault qualified if you are going to expect your Soldiers to go to Air Assault School. … We expect [leaders] to come here and earn the coveted Air Assault Badge.”
Back to school
With the drawing down of forces in Afghanistan comes a renewed focus on the 10 toughest days in the Army at the Sabalauski Air Assault School and on what an air assault Soldier is.
“I have only been here for about a year, but I have seen the changes in the Soldiers’ state of mind from, ‘It’s just Air Assault School’ to ‘We need to really train for this,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Santana, a senior instructor. “I have heard, ‘It’s just another badge,’ and that’s how a lot of people look at it.
“We emphasize the basic structures now, the discipline, the need for this air assault course or even the badge. Now, people are actually trying to train up for it versus just being told, ‘Go.’”
As leaders encourage their Soldiers to undergo air-assault training, instructors are seeing more Soldiers eager to be a part of the legacy of the 101st Airborne Division. Growth is evident around the school, instructors said.
“Four years ago, we only had two air assault training teams here,” Lapelis said. “Now, we have four. We are producing over 3,000 Soldiers annually who earn their coveted Air Assault Badges. So on a daily basis, when all four teams are active at the same time, we have almost 1,000 Soldiers on the school grounds.”
“What I try to preach to these students is to take advantage of us in your own backyard because a lot of other units in other places do not have these advantages,” Davenport said. “You are given an opportunity to go to Air Assault School and earn something that not everybody in the Army has.
“The training here is mission-essential, but it is something you take with you throughout the rest of your military career. … You depend on those Soldiers who have that fortitude, attention to detail and discipline, who you can lean on when times get tough. You know they are going to carry out the mission to make sure it’s a success. That’s what I think this schoolhouse teaches: success in the future and dependability.”
School of life
Enduring the school’s mental and physical challenges will prove valuable throughout a Soldier’s military career, instructors say.
“How you train is how you fight,” Lapelis said. “If you don’t know what the right thing is and you’re constantly doing something that’s not right, that can possibly hurt someone. You keep doing that long enough, it becomes muscle memory. In garrison, it is forgiving. Downrange, it is unforgiving.”
“It’s the relationships you develop and the things you can take with you,” Davenport said. “Attention to detail and looking at things in a different light as far as safety ─ you’re always looking out for that guy beside you or thinking ahead. All those things will make you successful later on in life.
“Some people will never do an air assault operation in their life. Some people will never sling-load equipment. Some people will never fast-rope or rappel out of an aircraft. But it’s those experiences that you can take with you ─ that you can overcome obstacles and you can actually succeed.”
However, some of those obstacles students face during the training can ultimately lead to a Soldier’s undoing at the school.
“We had 214 [Soldiers start the course] recently,” Davenport said. “I made it a point to tell the 162 at the end of [Day 0], ‘Do you realize what you did? Out of 214, you are what remains. That should make some type of fire burn in you that you can do this. Today, you are better than [those who did not make it]. Continue to be better; finish strong.’”
Soldiers who fail to complete the training often try again. Instructors said they see many familiar faces in class.
“We see them when they come through ─ ‘Oh you were here last class or two classes ago,’” Davenport said. “We see where they are progressively getting better, but they are just having a hard time, whether it’s academics or physical. But it’s a learning tool. They know what to expect; they know what is expected of them.
“We had a Day 0 student who had been through this course eight times, but yesterday was the student’s day [to succeed]. … It was the determination of this student who did not give up that will stick with her for the rest of her life. She is going to look back and say, ‘I can do this.’”
“They can come back as many times as they want,” McBride said. “I will keep helping them through it.”
Instructors at the Sabalauski Air Assault School take their jobs as mentors seriously and exhibit a passion to help the students and school by taking on a grueling schedule, particularly if students need extra assistance.
“If I have a [candidate who wants to work as an instructor] say, ‘Oh, I’m just going to teach my class and go home,’ it doesn’t work that way,” chief instructor McBride said. “[What] I am looking for is an instructor who says, ‘Hey, I belong in the best division in the world, and there is a problem in my unit ─ they don’t have enough air-assault qualified individuals. I’m here to fix that.’ Absolutely, I want to see that drive and determination for the students.”
Davenport agreed. Teaching at the Air Assault School is not the best place to go to get out of doing another job.
“This is a 24-hour-a-day, it’s-always-on-your-mind job,” he said. “You’re always involved. You need to be flexible with things that are going on. It’s a huge mentorship role. Huge.”
“You’re constantly trying to adapt to the situation,” Santana said. “So there’s really no time for you to relax, especially when you have a lot of civilian priorities as well, like I go to college. It’s tough, and it’s just constant. Every 10 days, you train these Soldiers from Day 0 to Day 10. You get them to where you want them to be, and then they graduate. They’re gone; then you start all over.”
The Air Assault School is widely known for the difficulty of the course, and instructors acknowledge it is not for the faint of heart.
“It is constant training, constant,” McBride said. “Every minute of the student’s time is managed. We give them every opportunity to succeed through directional guidance. … It’s so vital that we as instructors have the best period of instruction for the students, so that when they earn that badge and go to their units, they still have the knowledge to be a vital asset. The training is intense ─ from the physical training to the knowledge and in a short period of time.”
“It’s not just going to Air Assault School to get smoked and get more physical training,” Davenport said. “It’s coming down here to earn a badge that a lot of people will never have the opportunity to achieve in a lifetime.”
McBride said the value of air assault training was made apparent to him while on a recent deployment to Afghanistan. McBride was asked to assist a unit in rigging an A-22 cargo bag, something he hadn’t done for years since attending the Air Assault School.
“I had an entire platoon full of air-assault qualified privates, specialists, E-5s, E-6s who said, ‘Hey platoon sergeant, we’ve got this,’” McBride said. “That’s the value of this training. That’s what made me proud to be in this division, and that’s why I love working here at this schoolhouse ─ because I have that impact on thousands of Soldiers in this division.”
The training is difficult, but it isn’t designed to be impossible to accomplish, Lapelis said.
“It’s extremely feasible. But it’s up to that Soldier, up to that individual, to apply that effort, that dedication,” he said.
Instructors point to another recent graduate who garnered national media attention for his successful completion of the grueling course. Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson, a combat engineer with A Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, lost a portion of his lower right leg during a mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October 2006. Robinson became the first Soldier with an amputated limb and prosthetic to graduate from the Sabalauski Air Assault School in April 2013.
“He is an amputee,” Lapelis said. “[But he faced the] same standard, same grueling tasks. He got through the school. … [Robinson] executed every obstacle to the standard, conducted his 2-mile run, 6-mile [road marches], 12-mile [road marches]. He’s living proof that anyone can get through the school. It is possible.
“It takes a lot of heart, a lot of dedication, a lot of intestinal fortitude. That shows right there that throughout not just the Army, but the military overall, that it can be done. You just have to apply yourself.”
The Army announced Tuesday it is cutting the number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 33 during the next four years as part of a major force reduction that shifts thousands of Soldiers throughout the country and moves the Army closer to spending cuts outlined by legislation from 2011.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno announced the cuts, which are part of a reduction of force strength from its current level of 541,000 to 490,000 by 2017 to meet the $487 billion in cuts mandated in the budget control act.
The Army had previously identified two brigades in Germany for elimination. On Tuesday, Odierno identified 10 other s throughout the nation that will be dissolved by 2017. He said selections for the brigade cuts were made based on various factors including geography, cost and local economic impacts. Odierno warned further cutbacks could be in the future if full sequestration continues.
A brigade is normally comprised of about 3,500 Soldiers. Some can be as large as 5,000.
While 10 brigades will be eliminated from the Army, some of the components from those brigades will be put into remaining BCTs. In particular, Odierno said, a third maneuver battalion, and additional engineer and fires capabilities will be added to each armor and infantry brigade combat team.
That, Odierno said, will make those remaining BCTs “more lethal, more flexible, and more agile.”
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell said that the changes to the brigades make the remaining BCTs more capable.
“We had the ability to make the brigades more capable,” he said.
Campbell said that some Soldiers will need to move as part of the changes. But for the most part, moves will be from one unit on an installation to another.
“A majority of that will stay on that post,” Campbell said. “But we will have to add some, (in) some places. Some will have to move.”
With the expected cuts in BCTs, the Army will be left with a mix of 12 armored BCTs, 14 infantry BCTs, and seven Stryker BCTs. Those numbers could change in the future. Campbell said he feels confident that the brigades identified already would be the ones to be “reorganized.” But if the Army finds, in the future, that it needs a different mix of brigades than what has already been identified — some existing brigades might instead be changed to meet the new requirements.
Brigades marked for reorganization include:
• The 4th Stryker BCT, 7th Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
• The 3rd Armored BCT, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
• The 4th Infantry BCT, 1st Armored Division, Fort Riley, Kan.
• The 4th Infantry BCT, 101st Air Assault, Fort Campbell, Ky.
• The 3rd Infantry BCT, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.
• The 3rd Infantry BCT, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
• The 4th Infantry BCT (Airborne), 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
• The 2nd Armored BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.
• The 4th Armored BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
• The 3rd Infantry BCT, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.
C. Todd Lopez of the Army News Service contributed to this report.
First Sgt. Jack Essig is the first sergeant for the rear detachment company, Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, at Fort Campbell, Ky. In 1996, Essig joined the Army from his hometown of Cranston, R.I. He volunteers as a coach for football, baseball and basketball, and during the past five years, has logged more than 500 volunteer hours. Essig has also deployed four times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Why did you join the Army? I grew up in not such a good neighborhood. A lot of my friends and a lot of my seniors weren’t the best examples, and I knew I had to get away from my hometown. The Army was the best route. College wasn’t really an option because of financial reasons, and I knew the Army paid for schooling. My initial intent was to get a degree and get out. But here I am, 16 years later.
Why have you continued to serve as an NCO? It’s made me a better man. It’s raised me right. It’s a career. I have friends who spent four years in college and are still scrounging for jobs 10 or 15 years later. As I excelled in the military, my best choice was to stay.
How have NCOs helped you in your career? During my career, I’ve noticed everyone has his or her own leadership style. I’ve tried to pull out the positives, use them and put them in my kit bag as I’ve progressed through the ranks. Even poor leadership has shown me the right way of doing things, because I knew if and when I reached that rank, I wouldn’t do those things.
What would you like to see more NCOs do? The Army has gotten away from sergeants’ time. I would like to see more NCOs implement that. It’s up to us to find the time and to make it mandatory training time. Any training is good because it makes a Soldier well-rounded and improves everything they do.
How do you lead your Soldiers? I try to do what they have to do. I always try to set the right example for them. If I’m not bogged down by additional duties as a first sergeant, I’ll be out there sweeping floors, checking vehicles for preventative maintenance or any Soldier tasks. I’m always right there with them to show them a better way from my experience or an easier way of doing the task. I always push on my guys to get a college degree, volunteer in the local community and show genuine character. I’ll pull my Soldiers into my office, sit them down and see how everything is going — just basically let them know I’m looking out for them.
What advice do you have for junior NCOs? I always tell my junior NCOs to take the job that no one wants and excel at it. I believe that’s helped me in my career. Some of the assignments I’ve had in my career, you wouldn’t want to sign up for them. But when you do them, and do them well, it shows diversity over your peers when you’re being looked at for promotion.
How does your role help the Army as a whole? We have 200 Soldiers staying in the rear detachment during this deployment. It’s a complex company, with medical personnel who aren’t deploying and Soldiers who are going to different bases or leaving the Army. It’s trying to do the Army business with the diversity of military occupational specialities. It’s providing Soldiers with all of the assets they need, with all of their different concerns. It’s also assisting with our forward element, which is downrange. Anything and everything with deploying, we assist with that process.
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