CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. —
A staff sergeant assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron here recently accomplished training that is slightly outside his normal duties as a combat photographer.
Recently, Staff Sgt. James Harper became one of two 1 CTCS Airmen who have been awarded an Army air-assault badge for completing air-assault training with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. This training allows Sergeant Harper to be integrated with air-assault units in the air and on the ground so he is in a better position to document their operations.
"The air-assault training course is a 10-and-a-half-day course, that is broken down into three phases: combat assault, slingload operations and rappelling operations," said Sergeant Harper. "Not only were we evaluated on completing the performance objectives but we were also given written tests after each phase."
But, in order to even get a chance to complete the course students first have to make it through 'zero day.'"
"Zero day is when you had your gear inspected and completed an obstacle course that was designed to test your fear of heights, strength and endurance," said Sergeant Harper. "This test is critical because in the later portions of the training, students were required to hold their body weight for long periods of time until they got their rigging fastened."
"If the instructors felt someone was incapable of completing the course they recommended them for elimination because they would be a risk to themselves and to other trainees," said Sergeant Harper.
After completion of "zero day," the students moved into the combat assault phase of their training in which they learned about aircraft safety, aero medical evacuation, pathfinder operations, hand and arm signals, close combat attacks and combat assault operations.
"This proved really beneficial for me because it gave me more of an idea of how the air-assault troops move on the ground and how an air-assault unit conducts war operations," said Sergeant Harper. "This way, I can conduct my job better, stay safe and help keep the mission running smoothly without getting in the way."
After completing the combat assault phase, the students began the slingload operations training.
"Slingload operations training gave me a lot of information on how to rig and secure equipment for aircraft removal," said Sergeant Harper. "This is basic knowledge that anyone performing air assault duties should know."
After completion of slingload operations, students begin their last phase of training: the rappelling phase.
During this phase, the students became familiar with rappelling procedures and had to conduct rappels from different heights and with different styles.
"The best part of this phase was just getting to repel," said Sergeant Harper. "We got to complete more than 15 repels at different heights utilizing three different styles of repelling.
The final portion of the air assault training was a graded 12-mile foot march that students had to complete in less than three hours in order to graduate from the course.
"A lot of people had problems with the physical aspects of the course including the 12-mile foot march," said Sergeant Harper. "Before I even got to the training course, I spent a lot of time running and doing calisthenics to make sure I could handle the physically demanding requirements of the course."
After completion of the 12-mile foot march, the students were given a break to change out of their fatigues, shower and put on their best set of fatigues for graduation.
With his new certification, Sergeant Harper said he could now integrate into the Army's Air-Assault units. "As a combat photographer, this training will open up new doors of opportunity. I can now work with an air-assault unit when they deploy," he said. "This allows me the opportunity to tell their story and show how they perform their jobs firsthand from beginning to end of their operation."