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Whiteman EOD Airmen earn air assault badge

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Active Duty explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) Airmen assigned to the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, had the opportunity to join Army and Air National Guard and Reserve members at Camp Crowder, Mo., for the Army Air Assault School Course from May 2-13, 2016.

The 10-day course is designed to prepare candidates for insertion, evacuation and pathfinder missions that call for the use of multipurpose transportation and assault helicopters.

"The course provides an opportunity to increase skill sets we rarely get to use," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Workoff, the NCO in charge of EOD training with the 509th CES.

Most personnel attend the Sabalauski Air Assualt School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; however, the Army Air National Guard Warrior Training Center Mobile Team also brings the training to installations across the country.

Although the majority of the mobile course attendees are Guard or Reserve, Workoff and two other EOD team members decided to try out their luck at "day zero." This day is packed with exercises and obstacles, and determines whether the candidate earns the right to be called an air assault student or goes home.

"We showed up risking the chance of not getting a slot," said Senior Airman Justin McCaleb, an EOD team member with the 509th CES. "The day started with us getting smoked at 3 a.m."

The exhausting group physical training sessions, known as "getting smoked" at the Air Assault School, tests the candidates' endurance and pushes them to muscle failure. Yet, that is just the introduction.

After getting smoked, candidates are required to pass a timed two-mile run before continuing onto an obstacle course that consists of nine sections.

"It wasn't as bad as we thought it would be," said Workoff. "We were the only active-duty Air Force members there, and it felt pretty amazing to get a slot!"

With day zero behind them, the students began the classroom portion of the course: the combat assault phase. This portion of the course familiarizes the students with aircraft orientation and pathfinder operations, which provide navigational aid and advisory services to military aircraft.

After two days of classroom training, the students were required to pass an exam in order to move on to the next phase: sling-load operations.

In this phase, students learn how to rig equipment onto aircraft with a sling to bypass obstacles and allow rapid movement of heavy oversized loads and emergency supplies.

"Historically, this is the phase they say you lose people left and right," said Workoff. "You only have two minutes to inspect and find deficiencies, but once you get passed this phase it's all downhill from there."

In the third phase, students receive instruction on ground and aircraft rappelling procedures.

"Once you pass the initial rappel training you know the next day is helicopters, and that's what everyone looks forward to," said Workoff. "You rappel from a UH-60 Blackhawk that is hovering at 90 feet."

The last obstacle standing between the students and receiving their air assault badges was completing a 12-mile ruck march in less than three hours on graduation day.

"At the six-mile turn-around point they give you your air assault wings, and that's the motivator!" said Workoff.

After running the first six miles, the EOD team members ended up finishing in the top five for the ruck march.

"The biggest thing you get out of air assault is how to sling load equipment, and with the mission we have at Whiteman we support with aircraft response," said Workoff. "If something happens out in the middle of nowhere, we have the capability and training to take all our equipment and personnel, load onto a helicopter, drop it off on scene and cut our response time by 75 percent."

In July 2016, the EOD team members are scheduled to participate with the Missouri Air National Guard in Operation Thunder Weasel, which is a major exercise that will require the Air Assault School graduates to use the skills they obtained from the training.