101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers are tough by nature, that is why I was so excited about being able to attend the Toughest Air Assault Soldier Competition as a part of the 2009 Week of the Eagles at Fort Campbell, KY. It gave me a chance to see what tough really is.
The competition started at 0400 at the Sabalauski Air Assault School, it was originally scheduled to begin at 0800, but had been moved forward due to the extreme heat during the day.
The first event was a Ruck march where the soldier puts on load bearing equipment, a 30-pound rucksack, helmet, gets an M-16 rifle, then moves to the starting point for the 12-mile road march. While the starting point was lighted the rest of the march was in darkness, with a blue light marking the turn around point. From the school, the turn around point was 3 miles away. They had to do this route twice. From the school to the turn around point, back to the school, back to the turn around point, and back to the school to finish. They had three hours to complete this portion of the competition.
Then after removing their Ruck march gear, the soldiers moved on to the obstacle course.
While completing the Ruck march had to be tough, doing this challenging course immediately afterward had to be pure torture. The obstacles included:
- Tough One, in which the soldier climbs a rope, walks across an elevated beam, then climbs up a ladder, over a log, and then down a cargo net.
- Low Belly Crawl, The soldier must crawl on their bellies under strands of barb wire without touching any.
- Confidence Climb, Two 35′ telephones poles are stuck in the ground about ten feet apart and joined by 4×4 posts, forming a ladder with increasing distances that the soldier must climb up, then climb back down.
- Six vaults, using one or two hands the soldier must vault over a series of six parallel waist high beams.
- High step over, a series of thigh high parallel logs which the soldier must step over using alternating legs.
- Swing, stop, and jump; The soldier must grasp a rope and while swinging forward pull themselves up and land standing on a log. They then let go and jump to the ground.
And what must be one of the toughest obstacles…
- The Weaver, which is two inclined ladders joined at an angle end to end forming an inverted V, The soldier facing upright must negotiate the ladder, weaving first under then over, each of the beams.
After the obstacle course the soldiers proceeded to the repelling tower. After they donned their equipment, and were inspected by Capt Schuldt, they proceeded to the top of the tower. Then after hooking up and going through another safety inspection, the soldier repelled backwards down the open side of the tower.
After this the intense physical exertion of the morning complete, and it was testing time. The soldier’s knowledge of the procedures and requirements of their job as an Air Assault Soldier were confirmed. Following which the contestants were put through a practical test where they had to prep a package for sling loading.
This contest and its various stages were designed to put the soldier through the various tasks they would be required to fulfill during their time as a member of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and every one of these soldiers takes that job very seriously.
Spc. Chris Richard and Cpl. Rob Shropshire, both with the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment proved to be the toughest Air Assault Soldiers this day. It wasn’t easy, “It broke me off,” Shropshire said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.” Indeed they have a reason to be proud, because they won this competition among the toughest Air Assault soldiers within the Army’s only air assault division, “This doesn’t just make us the toughest Air Assault soldiers in the division,” Shropshire said. “This makes us the toughest Air Assault soldiers in the world.”
Photos from the 2009 Toughest Air Assault Soldier Contest