FORT PICKETT, Va. – After four demanding days, 14 active duty, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers earned their rappel master certification after completing the U.S. Army’s Rappel Master Course, taught by Soldiers of the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute Sept. 1-5, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia.
The course teaches Soldiers the skills and techniques necessary to become a qualified rappel master. It focuses on responsibilities, safety standard operating procedure and regulations, anchor systems, equipment familiarization, inspection and maintenance, ground training / hook up, knots, seat inspection, rappelling and aircraft rigging and control . Upon successful completion of the course, students are awarded a Rappel Master Diploma and certification card which certifies them to conduct rappelling operations on the ground and from an aircraft, inspect rigged rappellers, and train Soldiers or individuals on rappelling.
“To me this is harder [than the other courses we teach] because there is so much room for error,” explained Staff Sgt. Brian Cook, rappel master instructor. “It’s a very sequence-driven course and it’s a lot of pressure as a rappel master because you are the first face for a lot of people coming through rappelling. A lot of people have a fear of heights so it’s up to you to help them trust their equipment but also feel safe when they are on the tower because there is something very unnatural about sitting down 60 feet in the air.”
Throughout the course, students are assessed on each block of instruction, through both written exams and hands-on evaluations. Tests include knot tying, hook-up, equipment inspection, rappel master personnel inspection, aircraft command and control, basic and advanced rappelling techniques and a written final exam.
During RMPI, rappel master students must conduct a physical inspection of three rappellers. This challenging phase of the course often shrinks the course size by around 50 percent, and much of the course instruction is focused on this phase. In order to pass the RMPI evaluation, students have three minutes and thirty seconds to inspect three rappellers, all in different configurations, and must identify all major deficiencies and miss no more than two minor deficiencies, all while using the proper nomenclature.
“The hardest part was definitely the RMPI,” explained 2nd Lt. James Marston, assigned to the Kentucky National Guard. “We lost a lot of people; good guys too.”
The final test for the rappel master students is the aircraft command and control evaluation. This test demonstrates a student’s ability to successfully and confidently send rappellers from an aircraft approximately 90 feet above ground. The test 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. Students must achieve a score of 100% in order to pass. 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.
“It’s a very strict sequence,” explained Cook . “For example, when you are inspecting rappellers, the last thing you do to that rapeller is you give them a fist for freeze, you point at their head and their eyes. It’s ‘freeze, head, eyes on me.’ Little things like that, if they were to miss the fist but they did the ‘head eyes on me,’ [they’d fail].”
The Rappel Master Course is five days in duration. Following graduation, the new rappel masters will go back to their units with the ability to provide commanders technical expertise in safe rappelling operations.
“The Army is hurting overall for rappel masters so I would say anyone who gets the opportunity to go should go. I’d highly highly recommend it; it’s a great course,” said Cook.