SAN ANTONIO — As the audience roared with excitement, the steel rails near the roof of the Alamodome began to vibrate, making the six cadre members from the CSM Basil L. Plumley Air Assault School excited about what was coming next.
Carrying the game ball for the University of Texas at San Antonio versus Army football game Saturday, Master Sgt. Jerrad Benjamin, the former first sergeant of Fort Hood’s air assault school, said he looked down and hoped nothing went wrong.
“Not in the sense of I’m concerned with my safety, but that everything went as we rehearsed it,” Benjamin said. “That’s always what goes through our mind, especially because we’re representing the Army and the unit.”
Benjamin was joined in the air by 1st Sgt. Erik Bonnet, the CSM Basil L. Plumley Air Assault School first sergeant, with the two planked on either side by Staff Sgt. Casey Brinkley, Staff Sgt Evan Frank, Staff Sgt. Levon Locken, and Staff Sgt. David Punch, all representing the school’s cadre.
“Being up there – it’s a little bigger than whatever I’m going through,” Punch said, the only Soldier to have performed this rappel two years in a row. “A lot of people in the stands are waiting to see what we have, what we do. It’s an opportunity to show them the technical aspects of rappelling.”
Four of the six rappellers showed off three techniques – basic rappel, the lock-in and the Aussie. The Aussie is an Australian rappelling technique in which the rappeller descends down the rope upside down. During Saturday’s event, the four staff sergeants rappelled about halfway down the rope, stopped and performed a lock-in, where they cannot move, then flipped upside down and continued the rappel.
“Once they started going down the ropes and everything was going smooth, it was a little exciting watching it all go down,” Capt. Stephen Moreno, commander of the CSM Basil L. Plumley Air Assault School, said. “As the instructors flipped upside down, you could hear the audience getting even more excited.”
For the six men on the ropes, adrenaline was pumping through their veins and they could hardly wait to show the more than 30,000 people in attendance what they do every day when they train Soldiers to become air assault qualified.
“When you’re up there, it’s kind of nerve-wracking. I’m ready to go,” Brinkley said. “It’s like an overwhelming sense of calmness comes over you when you’re off the platform and solely on the ropes.”
As he sat on the steel rails overlooking the Alamodome from 178 feet in the air, Moreno realized he clearly had the best seat in the house.
Although the event was stressful, he was happy with how everything went according to plan.
“At the end of the day, we were one of 12 other things going on in a short window,” Moreno said. “Knowing we had the game ball and we were coming down right before the coin flip and all this other stuff was going on, it means our margin of error was very, very small.”
All the rappellers were proud of how everything played out and said they hope the audience enjoyed the demonstration as much as they enjoyed rappelling.
“It was a great experience,” Punch said. “It’s a great opportunity to show them the techniques that we certify Soldiers in, to rappel into combat and operate in air assault operations and missions.”
The Army’s air assault training is a rigorous course, hailed as the 10 toughest days in the Army. The course is both mentally and physically strenuous. Fort Hood’s Air Assault School is held at the CSM Basil L. Plumely Air Assault School.
Air assault training is open to all ranks, all military branches and even foreign allies. For those who think they have what it takes to become air assault qualified, packets must be submitted and approved by their unit commander.