By the time students were rappelling out of helicopters in phase three, 52 of the original 135 students remained in air assault school at Fort Polk.

By the time students were rappelling out of helicopters in phase three, 52 of the original 135 students remained in air assault school at Fort Polk.

Rappelling on Thursday was the second-to-last major assessment on the second-to-last day of the course.

Two Black Hawk helicopters on Honor Field, went up and down with four students at a time, and two instructors. Each line, dangling from the open doors of the helicopters, was held and controlled, by someone on the ground. The instructors would check to make sure everyone was safely strapped into their uncomfortable-looking Swiss seat harnesses, made entirely out of rope.

Once the instructors were certain everyone was ready to go, two at a time were given the signal to go, each from opposite sides of the aircraft. Hand signals were used to due to the loud pounding of the propellers against the air. Talking was a virtual impossibility.

When the first two students made it safely on the ground, about 75 feet below, the next two followed shortly thereafter.

The helicopter was taken back down to pick up the next four students, and repeated this process until the whole class had completed the rappelling phase.

Throughout the process of air assault school, soldiers are trained in sling-load operations and rappelling, along with physical and academic testing.

Feb. 24 marked "zero day," and phase one, for the 14-day air assault class. "Zero day" involved an obstacle course, meant to test the physical capabilities of each student, and weed out those who were unprepared. At that time, Sgt. 1st Class Shane Hankey, non-commissioned officer in charge, estimated that, at the end of the ten days, approximately 100-110 of the original 135 would graduate.

After the rappelling phase was over, on day nine, Sgt. 1st Class Mikey Fernandez, non-commissioned officer in charge, said, the sling-load portion proved, as it always has in his experience, to disqualify more soldiers than any other portion of the training.

Sling-loading is a method for airlifting over-sized cargo by carrying it beneath a helicopter. It is used to transport everything from vehicles, weapons, containers, food and general equipment. This underslung equipment allows for easier pick-up and delivery of items, while reducing the risk of ground crew danger.

“Sling loads will be the single most important thing they will be taught,” Hankey said. “If it is not conducted appropriately, a bad sling load can cause the loss or damage of millions of dollars worth of military equipment and can even cause aircraft to crash.”

During phase two, the sling-load portion of the assessment, the group lost over 70 students, said Fernandez. They must have incredible attention to detail when looking for deficiencies in sling-load. "They have to inspect four different loads, and on those loads there are four deficiencies. They must find three out of four deficiencies within two minutes, on each load. That is where my attrition rate usually happens," he said.

One student, Staff Sgt. Christopher Nix, of the Louisiana National Guard, said air assault school has been a blast.

"It helps us to be more prepared for state emergencies, like we've had in the past, by using aviation units and sling-loads to provide supply needs. Nix will take his newly learned skills back to his unit to train others how to be better prepared for future emergencies.

Prior to graduation on Friday, the class had to complete a 12-mile road march in three hours or less.

Students who made it through all phases of air assault school successfully were awarded the distinctive right and honor to wear the Air Assault Badge.