Go inside the only air assault division in the Army

Veterans Voices

FORT CAMPBELL, KY. (WKRN) – It’s physically demanding. “You’re not tied in to anything. You’re holding on for dear life sliding down. Once you hit the ground, you’re off and running,” said Staff Sergeant Casey Hartlieb.

It’s mentally challenging. “This skillset identifies the 101st as one of the most lethal divisions there is in the Army,” said Air Assault School instructor, Sgt. Katelyn Harlan.

Roughly 40% of the class won’t pass on their first try. “There’s not that many soldiers in the Army that have gone through the Air Assault School, so when you see someone with an Air Assault badge, you know that means something,” explained Hartlieb.

Welcome to Fort Campbell’s Sabalauski Air Assault School often referred to as the “10 toughest days in the Army”. The training was born out of necessity during the Vietnam War. Thick jungle made it impossible for troops to parachute in. The intense school teaches soldiers how to use helicopters to bring the fight to the enemy.

“Using those to inset troops, equipment, medical supplies, whatever a unit might need really helps mission readiness,” said Harlan.

To honor those who’ve come before, SSG Hartlieb created a display dedicated to veterans who’ve successfully mastered the highly specialized training. “I wanted to keep the history alive,” he said. “We have that bond that we know how much pain we went through when we went through Air Assault School.”

Pain that begins before they even become candidates. Soldiers must first pass Day Zero, a challenging obstacle course, and two-mile run. If they make it through, they begin Phase One which focuses on aircraft safety and combat assault operations.

During the second phase, students learn how to rig equipment onto rotary aircraft with a sling. This operation is extremely precise and requires intense preparation and concentration under the heat of the chopper blades.

“Phase three, of course, is the best phase in my opinion,” saidHarlan. “You get to repel. It builds confidence.”

It’s how I ended up at the edge of the repel tower 34 feet in the air. “Rotate backward just like so. Keep leaning. Step down onto the wood,” Harlan instructed.

“If you think over the years, since 1974, how many soldiers have gone off that tower. I mean, it’s incredible,” Hartlieb said.

It’s a perspective many don’t get to experience.

Veterans Voices: News 2 has special reports recognizing the men and women who have served our country

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