Air Assault School: The Hardest Two Weeks In The Army.
Quickly, I make my way to the waiting Blackhawk helicopter. Even with my full combat load strapped to my back the rotor wash threatens to push me over. My face is pelted with grass and other debris; motivation and determination makes me run harder. As I reach the Blackhawk the Black-shirt directs me to one of four repel lines anchored to the aircraft. I wrap the line through my d-ring and climb into the cabin. I wait, crouched in the doorway, for my three other comrades to finish their hookup. The Black-shirt completes his check of our hookups and gives the pilot the thumbs-up. Abruptly, the helicopter lifts into the air leaving my stomach somewhere below.
Two weeks earlier in the darkness of an early April morning, I stand surrounded by close to three hundred other soldiers, filled with excitement and uncertainty. The air is heavy with the promise of another scorching day with the humidity reaching hundred percent. This day is called Zero Day. This is the day that determines which of the close to three hundred potential candidates get to make up the next class of two hundred Air Assault Students. The day begins early, 0330 to be exact, and with a lot of yelling. Immediately we are instructed to form one mass formation, the yelling continues. The Air Assault Sergeants, otherwise know as Black-shirts because of their distinctive uniform, take command. This is their yard and they make sure each and every one of us understands that. One by one soldiers are called out of ranks to receive their roster number. From this point on I am no longer be known as SGT Nealand, now I am Roster Number 442 or simply 442.
Through the parking lot and down the dirt covered dusty road we run towards the obstacle course; like a flock of sheep to the slaughter. I try hard to remain within the pack of soldiers around me and, above all else, I try not to be noticed by a Black-shirt. Notice always results in a thunderous "Hey, Air Assault. Drop!" That simple command is the vanguard of a relentless cycle of push-ups, flutter-kicks, and other physical torture they like to call corrective action. As we near the first obstacle, my canteen of water falls from my cargo pocket. I stop to retrieve my wayward bound canteen only to have those four backbreaking words slam into me from behind. As I drop to the ground, I hear the distinctive sound of a highly polished combat boot coming into contact with a plastic canteen at a very high rate of speed. I realize that the Black-shirt had just punted my canteen down the road like a football player making his last ditch effort to advance the ball farther down the field before relinquishing control to the other team. I spend the next five minutes conducting corrective action.
The completion of ten obstacles is required on Zero Day. Failure is not an option for me, but the Black-shirts are everywhere. They look for every mistake and every failure, their goal: to break you...