In June 2000, I was a Captain stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I was going to command a Military Police Company. There was one obstacle; my Colonel told me that in order to command the company, I needed to go to Air Assault School.
I gotta be honest with you; I had heard nothing but horror stories about Air Assault School. The obstacle course and the infamous rope climb eliminated 50% of the class on “Day Zero.” The rope burns, the intense studying, the rappelling off the wall and then rappelling out of a helicopter 90ft in the air and the 12-mile road-march, wearing full gear and carrying a weapon, which had to be completed in 3-hours or less.
Knowing of all that, I still only had one option…complete Air Assault School!
Time to Train
I trained for 2-months on the obstacle course. I made it through the entire course and never once made it up the rope…not even half way. Four days before I was going to start Air Assault School my grandmother called and told me that my cousin had died, just one month before her wedding day. I was devastated…
I only remember getting in my car and arriving in Detroit 10-hours later. I went to the funeral, returning back to Ft. Campbell the night before Day Zero.
When I arrived at the Air Assault School the next morning, 279 soldiers showed up. The instructors informed us that there were “too many of us…” So, we were going to do the course backwards. This meant that the rope would be the first challenge.
We were standing in formation by rank so, initially I was in the back. Because we were doing the course backwards, I was first in line to go up the rope. You know the rope that I had never successfully climbed…I closed my eyes said a small prayer and asked for strength.
As I approached the rope I grabbed it and wrapped my legs around the bottom to lock in. Then with all of my upper body strength I pulled myself up the rope. I never used my legs. I successfully navigated the remainder of the course. At the end of, “Day Zero,” 143 soldiers were dropped.
Air Assault School
Air Assault School had three phases. I successfully completed phase 1 and 2 and on the last day of phase-3, I missed assuming a belay position and failed phase 3. Once again I was devastated. I was tired and had to start over the next day.
The last day of phase three, was a Friday, we had to perform 2 live rappels out of the helicopter 90 feet in the air.
During my first live rappel, I navigated my way down the rope, performing three breaks, I felt great! I took off my gloves once on the ground so, that I could assume the belay position. I held onto the rope very tightly because I did not want any mishaps, I could not risk having to re-start phase 3 again. As the helicopter went up my hands were burning. I thought it was because it was so hot outside.
After completing my turn at belay, I looked down and my hands and the skin was hanging off. I had severe rope burns over 75% of both of my hands. I went to the medic and they told me I needed to go to the hospital. All I could think about was re-starting. I looked the medic in the eyes and said these three words, “Wrap them up.” He said, “Ma’am I have to check with the instructors.” The instructors came over and told me that it would be okay, I could come back and only complete the final rappel and the road march, once my hands healed. I looked at all of them and said, “Wrap them up!”
I put largest pair of gloves we had on over my wrapped hands and went back up into the helicopter to perform my final rappel in full gear. When I made it back to the ground I drove myself home. The next day, (Saturday) I went to the hospital and they cut off the hanging skin and wrapped my hands in gauze. The doctor instructed me to wait until my hands healed to complete the 12-mile road march. I said okay and drove myself back home and took it easy for the rest of the weekend.
On Monday morning I arrived at the school with my wrapped hands and completed the 12-mile road march in 2 hours and 53 minutes.
So, what’s my point?
There were many moments when I could have quit. I could have used the funeral, I could have used having to complete phase 3 a second time, I could have used the injuries to my hands, all justifiable reasons to stop and finish later…instead I chose to finish what I had started.
Now of course I am not telling you to take action and create further injury to yourself. What I am suggesting is that you can move past a little pain and discomfort to accomplish your goals.
My final thoughts…
When I am faced with a obstacles I think about Air Assault School. Then, I look at the four remaining scars on my right hand and I tell myself, “You made it up the rope and down the rope, you can make it through this too.”
Overcoming obstacles daily
- The Multitasking Myth
- The Trap