DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
The first airlift control flight members from Air Force Reserve Command graduated from the Army’s Air Assault School Nov. 18, 2016, at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Staff Sgt. Kurtis Crawford and Senior Airman Tyler McPhail, both assigned to the 512th Airlift Control Flight at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, completed the course often referred to as “the 10 toughest days in the Army.”
“It was brutal,” said Crawford. “The days lasted 15 to 16 hours long, and they were so physically intense.”
Students are required to complete an obstacle course and two-mile run on Day Zero before entering the course, according to the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center’s website. Designed to prepare Soldiers for air mobile operations, the Air Assault Course involves training and evaluations on combat assault, sling loads, rappelling, physical fitness and other critical skills.
McPhail said it was one of the hardest courses of his career.
To prepare for it, Crawford and McPhail endured a 10-week regimen, which included various workouts and several ruck marches ranging from 2-to-12 miles.
Their class began with 269 students and ended with 227, only four of which were Air Force.
Dover’s reservists were among two active-duty Airmen stationed in the South. They were the first Airmen to come through Air Assault School in at least two years, according to the ARNGWTC’s AF Liaison Office.
“A lot of the Army guys didn’t know we were reservists,” said McPhail. “I think they assumed we were active-duty (pararescuemen) or (joint terminal attack controllers).”
In actuality, Crawford works as a C-17 loadmaster, and McPhail is a command and control specialist. At home station, the two serve on a specialized team responsible for establishing command and control as well as port opening capabilities at austere locations during peace and wartime. Dover’s Airlift Control Flight is 1 of 5 such units in all of AFRC.
“The Army guys were surprised to learn how much we did as reservists,” said McPhail. “They had in their minds the classic ‘one weekend a month, two weeks a year.’”
Over the years, the 512th ALCF has been building partnerships with sister services, including Army Airborne units. The ALCF has increased its capabilities in working with the Army in areas such as Rapid Port Opening and Air Field Seizure operations.
“Our graduation from this course doesn’t turn red dots green, but it definitely adds a capability to our unit’s mission,” said Crawford. “It’s another tool we can use to move cargo to locations without runway access.”
In addition to receiving sling load certification, Crawford said Air Assault School is one of only three training venues that also certifies its graduates as inspector qualified as well. Slingload operations involves slinging an item under an airborne helicopter and flying it to another location.
Prior to graduation, students had to successfully complete written and hands-on examinations, sling load tests, and a 12-mile foot march in under three hours with full combat load.
“Balancing it all was the hardest,” said McPhail. “You’re always tired, and you’re always sore. If you didn’t stay up to study, you’d fail. Even during the times when there was no PT scheduled, you could still get ‘smoked’ for something.”
Despite the ALCF members’ continuous workouts and marches back home, Crawford, a Delaware native, said he wasn’t prepared for the hills.
“Delaware doesn’t have hills like that,” he said. “There was a hill that had a mile-long incline, and we had to trek it three times.”
“I give credit to Crawford,” said McPhail. “He’s twice my age, and I was struggling just as bad as he was.”
For 2 of the 3 phases of the course, Crawford, in his mid-40s, was the oldest student enrolled.
Crawford said he feels pretty good about his accomplishment, especially repelling 90 feet out of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.
“I think we gained a lot of respect, once we got past Phase 2, and the Army guys realized we were there to stay,” said McPhail. “I feel like we broke an Air Force stigma some of the Army guys had about Airmen.
“And, it also felt good to finally meet the goal we had been training for, for three months.”
In addition to bringing home new skill sets, the two are now authorized to wear the Army’s air assault badge, symbolizing their successful completion of the course.
“It was definitely a challenge,” said Crawford. “It’s one of those things you’re proud of, but you never want to do it again.”