NEWS | June 15, 2017

Virginia National Guard certifies 26 new rappel masters

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

After five grueling days, 26 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 June 5-9, 2017, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. 

The course teaches Soldiers how to tie knots used during rappelling and when and how to use them effectively during rappelling operations; how to inspect, rig and maintain rappelling equipment; how to inspect and identify deficiencies in the seats of rappellers; aircraft command and control during rappelling; hand and arm signals; and hook-up procedures. Ultimately, graduates of the course leave with their rappel master certification card, which certifies them to conduct rappelling operations on the ground and on an aircraft, inspect rigged rappellers and train Soldiers or individuals on rappelling. 

“The whole course is geared toward safety,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Chaney, rappel master instructor. “Everything has redundancies built into it. Just like the aircraft have two engines in them, we’ve got everything backed up. We don’t use a single rope, we use double ropes.”

Throughout the rigorous course, students are assessed on each block of instruction, through both written exams and hands-on evaluations. Soldiers must score at least 70 percent on each exam and on the equipment inspection evaluation, students must inspect five items of equipment and identify any unserviceable items within two minutes. The knot test requires Soldiers to identify four different knots, each within 30 seconds or less and in the hook-up test, Soldiers must inspect two hook-ups, identifying all deficiencies.

“It was long days, nerve-racking testing and a lot of memorization,” explained Staff Sgt. Wesley Runion, of the Virginia National Guard. “Overall though, it was a really good course.” 

The Rappel Master Personnel Inspection test is one of the most difficult evaluations conducted during the course. 

“It was the hardest part, only because there’s a lot of checks and you’re timed and the time hack is what really gets you nervous and into a heightened sense of urgency,” Runion explained. 

During RMPI, rappel master students must conduct a physical inspection of three rappellers, one without combat equipment, one in semi-combat mode with a load-bearing vest and a weapon, and another in combat mode, wearing a load-bearing vest, weapon and a rucksuck, all within three minutes and 30 seconds. Soldiers must identify all major deficiencies and all but two minor deficiencies in order to pass the test. During this evaluation, it is not uncommon for the class size to shrink by more than 50 percent.

The final test for the rappel master hopefuls is the aircraft command and control evaluation, which 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 from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. The 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.

“I can sit back now and realize how much we learned and the amount of time we put into it and how much it takes to safely put someone off an aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary McMillion, of the Indiana National Guard, following a successful completion of the aircraft command and control evaluation.

The course started with 34 students.

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