Virginia Guard schoolhouse certifies new rappel masters

Active duty, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from across the nation face their final challenge Aug. 28, 2015, during the Aircraft Command and Control evaluation as part of the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, taught by rappel masters and instructors of the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute.  (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Active duty, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from across the nation face their final challenge Aug. 28, 2015, during the Aircraft Command and Control evaluation as part of the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, taught by rappel masters and instructors of the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – Rappel masters and instructors from the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute conducted the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, Aug. 24-28, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. The course started with 16 rappel master hopefuls and certified seven at the end of the five-day course.

“They ensure everybody’s safety,” said Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Perry, one of the rappel master instructors. “So if we have rappellers going off the tower, or out of a bird, they make sure that everything is rigged up and safe so everybody can complete safe rappels and continue on with the mission.”

During the course, Soldiers learned how to tie and knots most commonly used during rappelling and how to use them effectively during rappelling operations, how to inspect, rig and maintain rappelling equipment, how to inspect and identify deficiencies in the seats of rappellers, aircraft command and control during rappelling, hand and arm signals and hook-up procedures.

“Attention to detail is one of the most important parts of the course,” Perry explained. “Making sure procedures are followed so nothing gets missed, that’s what keeps people safe. The details and the small specific things are very important.”

Active duty, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from across the nation face their final challenge Aug. 28, 2015, during the Aircraft Command and Control evaluation as part of the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, taught by rappel masters and instructors of the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute.  (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Active duty, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from across the nation face their final challenge Aug. 28, 2015, during the Aircraft Command and Control evaluation as part of the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, taught by rappel masters and instructors of the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Throughout the rigorous course, students are assessed on each block of instruction, through both written exams and hands-on evaluations. For the exam, Soldiers must score at least 70 percent. On the equipment inspection evaluation, students must inspect five items of equipment and identify any unserviceable items within two minutes. The knot test requires Soldiers to identify four different knots, each within 30 seconds or less and in the hook-up test, Soldiers must inspect two hook-ups, identifying all deficiencies.

The Rappel Master Personnel Inspection test is one of the most difficult evaluations conducted during the course. Rappel master students must conduct a physical inspection of three rappellers, one without combat equipment, one in semi-combat mode with a load-bearing vest and a weapon, and another in combat mode, wearing a load-bearing vest, weapon and a rucksuck, all within three minutes and 30 seconds. Soldiers must identify all major deficiencies and all but two minor deficiencies in order to pass the test. During this evaluation, it is not uncommon for the class size to be shrink by more than 50 percent.

“It’s not enough to be accurate,” said Sgt. David Perry, Virginia Guardsman and military police officer at Fort Pickett – Maneuver Training Center. “You must balance your time – not so fast that you miss important details, but not so slow that you skip steps on the last rappeller.”

Perry, who attended the Rappel Master Course in order to strengthen his skills, explained that there’s a fatigue factor involved too, that “testing takes place less than 24 hours after learning the material and practicing until nearly midnight the night before.”

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Jackson, from the Wisconsin National Guard, said the biggest take away from the class for him personally, was discipline.

“It takes a lot of discipline,” Jackson said. “It’s an intense week of a lot of memorization and there’s a lot of stress involved trying to get the sequences down, but you put in the effort and try to get the most sleep you can and go out and execute. With a little bit of luck on your side, you get through it.”

The final test for the rappel master hopefuls was the command and control evaluation, which requires Soldiers to use proper hand and arm signals, issue commands to the air crew and rappellers and correctly perform all tasks and procedures while overseeing the rappellers as they rappel from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. The students are responsible for the safety of the rappellers from the moment they enter the aircraft to the time they are safely back on the ground.

“Being rappel master certified is both a humbling and intimidating responsibility,” explained Sgt. Perry, adding that rappel master’s are responsible for the lives of those they rappel. “Safety is stressed in this course because in the end, you will stress over safety.

The class included active duty and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers as well as National Guard Soldiers from Wisconsin, Virginia, North Carolina and New Jersey.

Successful graduates of the Rappel Master Course are certified to conduct rappelling operations both on the ground and on an aircraft, inspect rigged rappellers and also train Soldiers or individuals how to rappel.

Active duty, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from across the nation face their final challenge Aug. 28, 2015, during the Aircraft Command and Control evaluation as part of the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, taught by rappel masters and instructors of the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute.  (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Active duty, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from across the nation face their final challenge Aug. 28, 2015, during the Aircraft Command and Control evaluation as part of the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, taught by rappel masters and instructors of the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Photos: Soldiers face final challenge in earning rappel master certification – Aug. 28, 2015