Cadet Smotherman takes on Air Assault Challenge

Tyler SmothermanSome might consider Cadet Tyler Smotherman a bit of an over-achiever.

After turning down an offer to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, the junior from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho decided to accept a full academic scholarship, as well as the national ROTC scholarship to come to the University of Idaho. In addition, the 4.0 student is double majoring in Political Science and International Studies with minors in Spanish and Military Science.

Yes, “over-achieving” to some, but it is doubtful that Smotherman thinks he is “over” doing anything. He just enjoys facing a challenge – and beating it. That is exactly what he did this summer while attending the U.S. Army Air Assault School at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

Air Assault School is an intense 11-day course that trains soldiers in rappelling, sling load operations (rigging vehicles and cargo to helicopters), medevac procedures, pathfinder operations, combat assault, and all manner of air mobile operations involving helicopters. Additionally, Air Assault students are subjected to a rigorous regimen of physical training and endurance exercises, including those on the infamous “Zero Day”. Not to mention that this is all done while combating lack of sleep and the notoriously high heat and humidity of summertime in Georgia.

“I have always wanted to go to Air Assault School ever since I heard of it,” said Smotherman. “It is extremely useful training given the immense importance of helicopter operations in today's Army.”

He knew going in that it would be tough, but said it was still a bit of a revelation.

“I didn't expect the mental aspect of the training to be difficult. Surprisingly, I had little trouble with the physical elements (the obstacle course, runs, constant "smoke" sessions, and 6 and 12 mile ruck marches) but Sling Load Phase was incredibly challenging due to the immense amount of memorization involved and the attention to detail required to correctly inspect the loads so quickly.”

He was also struck by the people and the place.

“The caliber of soldiers on FT. Benning was thoroughly impressive. Their professionalism and skill were extremely high. The histories of many of the soldiers I befriended going through the course were also very impressive (some were former Special Forces or Army Rangers, and many already had Airborne/Pathfinder/other qualifications as well as multiple combat tours under their belts). Lastly, just the place of Ft. Benning was impressive. The operational tempo is incredibly high and much more intense than what I had previously been exposed to, with the exception of a brief camp I attended at USMA WestPoint, and it was very impressive to see the US Army Armor School and Ranger School on post as well.”

When asked if the experience had been “fun,” he responded, “While nothing was exactly fun, it was exciting to rappel with a full ruck sack and combat load off of the 65ft tower. I genuinely enjoyed the challenges- including the 12 mile ruck march in a huge storm, the hard physical training, the obstacle course, and the long days of classroom learning.”

Although Smotherman doubts that the training was “the hardest and longest 11 days in the Army,” as it is often called, he did say that earning his wings was quite an accomplishment.


Staff Sgt. Bradley Hall, who is an instructor at FT. Benning agrees. "You need to be physically fit, mentally stable, adaptable - or you will have trouble.”

Next summer, Smotherman will have to tap into those same attributes again when he hopes to attend Airborne school.

Staff Sgt. Bradley Hall quote from: