Steel Airmen: 911 AW members graduate Army Air Assault School

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Grace Thomson
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Uncertainty and stress were what awaited the service members who went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to participate in the U.S. Army Air Assault School. Though they were as prepared for the training as they could be, they still had their hardships, and their triumphs. 


Senior Master Sgt. Jacob Kelecava, 911th Security Forces operations superintendent, and Master Sgt. Joshua Osborne, 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron unit fitness program manager, both attended and graduated from the 11-day Army Air Assault School. They said that their time there was rewarding even if it had been quite challenging at times. 


Kelecava graduated in August and said that he started with 285 participants on the first day but graduated alongside only about 80 by the end. 


Osborne’s stint in November had a better attrition rate though, starting with 270 people and graduating with about 130. 


“You are a roster number,” said Kelecava. “They don’t care if you are a sergeant major, chief master sergeant, airman, lieutenant colonel, or anything in between, so if you don’t finish something then there is no do-over. That’s refreshing and it’s nice to see that there’s no privileges.”


The training consists of several ruck marches, equipment checks, an obstacle course, sling load training and much more. Each section would build on the next until the training was complete. 


Both Kelecava and Osborne found one particular part of the course both frustrating and challenging: the sling load operation and inspection.


“They warn you in advance because there is a time limit and you don’t know where it’s going to be,” said Kelecava. “You are not allowed to have a smart watch, or your cell phone or any type of communication device down there at all. You are blindfolded before you go into the testing area.”


Osborne said, “The time limit is what gives you all the stress on that. It’s because you have to go fast or you won’t get through the entire sling loader, but you also have to stay calm and focused just to go through the process that they taught you.”


During the test the instructors intentionally had deficiencies in the sling loader for Kelecava and Osborne to find; they had to find three of four or else they would get washed back in the program. 


There were many things that could make a person get washed back, such as forgetting your dog tags or something in your pack. Some people would be washed back to day zero and others would get washed back a phase, depending on what they failed. 


“It’s kept in the entire time,” said Kelecava. “You could finish the 12-mile ruck march the morning of graduation but if you fail the gear inspection, say you forgot your neck gaiter, then it’s a day zero drop.”


Given these high standards, it is hardly surprising that the 911th Airlift Wing requires their prospective Air Assault School students undergo testing to see if they could pass. These tryouts consist of a rope climb, situps, pushups, a run and a ruck march. 


“That was our first one,” said Kelecava. “It got us our initial wave of folks to go. We sent six so far and had four graduate.”


It’s a difficult course and all six participants trained hard before they went, but there are many reasons one might be washed back. As reservists, it can be hard to go back to complete the course since everything must be unit funded. 


Kelecava said, “They have six months to come back to the course after washing out, but when they return they should be careful what time of year they pick. If you fell out of the six-mile ruck march at mile two in August, then obviously it’s probably not good for you to come back again in that temperature.”


The 911th AW Airmen knew what they were getting into because of the research who was done beforehand. The tryouts also seemed to help those that eventually went to the school. 


“It really helped my preparation for the course,” said Osborne. “Then physically preparing for the course, it was good to do the six-mile ruck march to know what it felt like beforehand. It helped me know what I needed to improve on and what I could already be confident on going into the course. “


Both Osborne and Kelecava would recommend this course to anyone who wants to challenge themselves. They said it was a great experience and that not a lot of Air Force people can say they went through the course; it carries a great sense of pride. 


Not only is it good for their personal pride, but it can also be good for their careers. Kelecava and Osborne noted that while deployed it can be hard for leadership to find Airmen who are sling load inspection certified, but that this course gives that certification. 


It also helps in any joint environment; the Army can know that these Air Force Airmen have gone through an Army course and it gives them credibility with the Soldiers. 


The plan for the future is to send more people to the course, Kelecava and Osborne said. If a 911th AW member is interested, they should keep a look out for information on the next tryouts. 


“It’s a cool experience that not many people get to do,” said Osborne.