Obstacle course returns to Camp Gruber

By Jay F. Marks Published: April 7, 2006
BRAGGS - The failure rate was not something Spc. Deaneys Weeks III even considered.

The 22-year-old McAlester native had been looking for a training opportunity with the National Guard since returning from Iraq in November when he found out the Air Assault School was returning to Oklahoma.

The school is known as one of the most rigorous the Army offers, but Weeks didn't hesitate.

"I was one of the first to volunteer for it, he said.

Weeks was one of more than 200 soldiers from Oklahoma and other states who set out before dawn Thursday to qualify for the school at Camp Gruber.

To do so, they had to complete a punishing nine-step obstacle course, then a 2-mile run in less than 18 minutes.

Their reward? Another 10 days of mental and physical tests as the school starts today.

Many won't even complete the program, which trains soldiers for combat air assault operations, including rappelling and loading equipment for helicopter transport.

The washout rate typically is 30 percent to 50 percent.

With that in mind, the Oklahoma National Guard contingent - more than 125 strong - spent the past three months preparing for the school's physical demands.

"It's just an attempt on our part not to waste the taxpayers' money, Lt. Col. John Altebaumer said.

School ties
The air assault school was conducted at Camp Gruber from 1988 to 1994 before budget cuts and military realignment shut it down. That time was one of the few the school was offered outside active-duty Army.

The Oklahoma National Guard brought it back to provide additional training opportunities, with an eye toward retention.

Altebaumer said Wednesday's events, known as "Zero Day, were an attempt to ensure the would-be students could deal with the program's rigors.

"You can't have a person doing air assault if they're intensely afraid of heights, he said, pointing to the first two obstacles on the course.

Both are mandatory obstacles, meaning those who fail to pass them are sent home.

The first - dubbed "Tough One - starts with a rope climb to a set of telephone pole-like beams about 10 feet off the ground.

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Air Assault Badge
DESCRIPTION: An oxidized silver badge consisting of a helicopter superimposed upon a pair of stylized wings curving inward.

SYMBOLISM: The wings suggest flight and together with the helicopter symbolize individual skills and qualifications in air assault landings.

AWARD ELIGIBILITY: Awarded by commanders of divisions and separate brigades to individuals who satisfactorily complete an Army air assault training course. Also authorized for any individual who has satisfactorily completed a standard air assault course when assigned or attached to the 101st Airborne Division since April 1, 1974.

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