running up that hill
- Jan 3, 2007
- in Wonderland, with my Alice
A Soldier from A Co., 4th Bn., 160th SOAR trains with the M134 minigun at Gray Army Airfield.
How to become a Night Stalker:
By Kimberly Laudano
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) Public Affairs
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky.(USASOC News Service, Sept. 25, 2006) – Green Platoon. It’s the first step to becoming a Night Stalker. It’s the bridge to a challenging and rewarding career as a Soldier in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). And upon completion, it’s when a Soldier is entrusted to carry on the unit’s legacy by upholding the standards and professionalism of those who came before him.
So what exactly is Green Platoon? It’s a five-week course consisting of field and classroom instruction and evaluation providing Soldiers with the basic skills they will need when they first arrive at their new job in the organization, said Sgt. 1st Class George Park, Combat Skills Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC).
Students also learn the unit history and evolution so they understand the founding philosophy of the 160th and the dedication of the Night Stalkers before them who made this organization what it is today. “Night Stalkers are entrusted to carry on the professionalism of those who came before them and continue pushing the limits to advance Army special operations aviation,” Park said.
Green Platoon trains Soldiers in advanced methods of the five basic combat skills: first responder, land navigation, combatives, weapons and teamwork. The program is run by the 160th’s Special Operations Aviation Training Company (SOATC) with cadre representing a variety of military occupational specialties (MOS) and years of real world Night Stalker experience.
All of the training builds off basic skills a Soldier already has. Green Platoon takes these skills to the next level and helps Soldiers realize they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. “We want Soldiers to succeed and excel in Green Platoon,” explained Park. “We push Soldiers to their limits and they realize they have even more to give. The students work together and get support from cadre to make it through.”
The course is physically and mentally demanding and is designed with the unit’s special operations mission at the core. Park said the philosophy behind Green Platoon is that everyone in the 160th may find themselves in a combat situation. “If there is a remote chance that any of our Soldiers may find themselves in combat, we want to prepare them for any scenario.”
He offers an example that is applicable to any Night Stalker, whether on staff or in a line unit, because everyone in the 160th can deploy and you may have to move between locations in theater. “If you are in a combat zone and find yourself in a downed helicopter scenario, you and your crew and customers will rely on this combat skills training,” said Park. “You may have to react to a medical emergency. In order to get to friendly forces, you may have to navigate by land. If you get confronted by the enemy, you’re taught combatives for hand-to-hand scenarios and how to use your weapon if that’s what it takes. And finally, teamwork is the only thing that will get you through it.”
First responder training is what used to be known as combat lifesaver training, said Park. Soldiers complete six days of combined classroom instruction and field exercises focusing on casualty assessment and initial treatment on the battlefield. The final exercise for this block of training is a simulated recovery of a downed aircrew with injuries.
Land navigation takes students back to the basics, navigating the earth using just a topographic map and compass. “This class starts with the basics of how to read a map and use a compass and finishes with an escape and evasion exercise,” said Park.
The combatives block of instruction is the Modern Army Combatives Level One Instructor Course as written by the U.S. Army Combatives School at Fort Benning, Ga. It is very physical, very real training designed to prepare Soldiers for hand-to-hand combat, Park explained.
Soldiers also spend a week on weapons familiarization. “Students become familiar with the M-9 pistol and M-4 Carbine as well as the AK-47, firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition,” said Park. A final stress shoot assesses students’ weapons handling after the in-depth training.
When Staff Sgt. Chad Hantz, a 96B Intelligence Analyst, reported for Green Platoon he was expecting a very physically and mentally challenging course. And it was. But Hantz said that the most rewarding experience at Green Platoon was attending Green Platoon itself. “Green Platoon has to be one of the best military schools out there. In my seven years of service I have never learned so much useful information within a matter of five weeks,” he said.
Somewhere in the mix, students are also confronted with a day-long test. The notorious “Black Day” is most Soldiers’ biggest fear, challenge and then most rewarding accomplishment. SOATC will not disclose the specifics of that day but Park said the series of tasks push students to their limits and show them what they can accomplish themselves and most importantly as part of a team.
Master Sgt. Richard Miller, a 44C Finance Specialist, said that “Black Day” is exactly what it sounds like. “It is the day you come to terms with your weakness. It’s where you start to make your transition to being a Night Stalker,” he said. “If you’re going to quit, it will be at this point.”
But according to their creed, Night Stalkers don’t quit.
“After Black Day, the Night Stalker Creed starts to have meaning and the buildings with the names of fallen Night Stalkers take on meaning to you,” Miller continued. “It is the hardest but most important day of training.”
Many Soldiers are apprehensive about volunteering for assignment with the 160th and surviving Green Platoon. They are not alone and should have confidence in themselves and the Soldiers they will be training with. “Every Soldier is nervous at the start of Green Platoon,” said Park. “I think that changes around the half-way point because students have succeeded in challenging tasks themselves and as a team.”
MOS and gender are irrelevant in this class. “We look at Soldier skills and character during Green Platoon,” said Park. “Everyone relies on each other during this training. Teamwork is what it’s all about.
No matter what your background, every character can positively influence the team in some shape or form,” he said. “Tasks you never thought you’d complete, you do.”
Spc. Jeffrey Klimper, a 63B Light Wheel Vehicle Mechanic, said Green Platoon was tough. “Everything you do challenges your body, mind and soul,” he said. “When you think you’re done and it’s going to get easier, it’s only going to get harder.”
But at the end of the day, the sense of accomplishment makes it all worth while,” Klimper reflected. “You’re sitting there and you just can’t believe you just completed the challenge.”
If Soldiers do not successfully complete key tasks, they get “recycled” for another opportunity. Private 1st Class Ikaika Hausley, a 15T UH-60 Black Hawk team chief, survived three “recycles.” He was determined to complete the course and serve with pride in the 160th SOAR.
“I volunteered for assignment with the 160th while I was in AIT (advance individual training) at Fort Eustis (Va.),” said Hausley. He heard Green Platoon was hard and quickly found out that it was.
“Then I started to figure it out. You may not realize it at the time, but every challenge and frustration is a lesson to help you succeed,” he said. “You’re surrounded by good people working for a good goal. It’s worth it.”
Park said he often hears Soldiers say that they are not tough enough for Green Platoon because of higher levels of physical fitness activities than they may be used to. “Green Platoon is as hard as you make it,” he said. “Is it an easy course? No. But it is designed to challenge you, not make you fail.”
If Soldiers still are not sure, he relies on rational. “Everyone who has worked in the regiment in your MOS previously graduated from Green Platoon. You can too.”
Hausley was not excited about the physical demands of Green Platoon but said it was all worth it. “Yes, you wake up sore, but you realize that you’re working hard and learning good information.” He attended his Green Platoon graduation on crutches from an injury he overcame to complete the program.
The regiment has a training program to help Soldiers prepare for Green Platoon. “You need to physically and mentally prepare yourself for the best training the Army has to offer,” said Park. “We have developed a 30-day train-up program designed to help Soldiers succeed in Green Platoon.”
“This course is difficult, but it’s doable,” said Miller. “It should be difficult because you want the best of the best to serve the special operations community.”
Miller also said nothing can truly prepare you for an assignment with the 160th. “There is no one experience that can prepare you for it. This is like the culmination of your military career.”
When the newest Night Stalkers walk away from their Green Platoon graduation donning their maroon beret with the 160th crest for the first time, there are two things Park hopes they take away from the experience. “First is the value and importance of team work,” he said. “Second is knowing that they can exceed what they thought was their previous limit.”