Air Assault Badge


Air Assault Badge
TypeSpecial skills badge
Awarded forAir Assault training course
Presented byUnited States Army
StatusCurrently awarded
Last awardedOngoing
Next (higher)Pathfinder Badge
Next (lower)Aviation Badges[1]

The Air Assault Badge[2] is awarded by the U.S. Army for successful completion of the Air Assault School. The course includes three phases of instruction involving U.S. Army rotary wing aircraft: combat air assault operations; rigging and slingloading operations; and rappelling from a helicopter.

According to the United States Army Institute of Heraldry, "The Air Assault Badge was approved by the Chief of Staff, Army, on 18 January 1978, for Army-wide wear by individuals who successfully completed Air Assault training after 1 April 1974. The badge had previously been approved as the Airmobile Badge authorized for local wear by the Commander of the 101st Airborne Division, effective 1 April 1974."[3] The division had been reorganized from parachute to airmobile in mid-1968 in Vietnam and designated the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). The parenthetical designation changed to Air Assault on 4 October 1974 and the name of the badge was likewise changed.[4]


Original Air Assault Badge
LTG (R) Hal Moore wearing the original Air Assault Badge

On 7 February 1963, the colors of the 11th Airborne Division were reactivated at Fort Benning, GA, as the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). The 11th was a small unit, never intended for deployable status, and used to test the airmobile concept then under development. Units of the 2d Infantry Division, also located at Fort Benning, were “borrowed” for large-scale airmobile tests and maneuvers.

An earlier Air Assault Badge, pictured on the right, was worn in the early 1960s by troops of 11th who qualified for it by making three helicopter rappels from 60 feet (18 m) and three from 120 feet (37 m).[5] Soldiers were also required to be knowledgeable of aircraft safety procedures; familiar with aircraft orientation; proficient in hand and arm signals and combat assault operations; able to prepare, inspect and rig equipment for external sling loads; and able to lash down equipment inside helicopters. The badge was first awarded in early 1964 and was only authorized for wear by soldiers within the 11th, as it was a division award and not authorized for Army-wide wear by the Department of the Army.[6][7][citation needed]

On 30 June 1965 the 11th Air Assault Division was inactivated and its assets merged with the 2d Infantry Division to become the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The colors of the 2d Infantry Division were sent to Korea where the existing 1st Cavalry Division was reflagged as 2d Infantry Division and the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division sent to Fort Benning. Shortly thereafter the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was sent to Vietnam.

Maj. Jack R. Rickman is credited with the design of the Air Assault Badge when he was in 1971 on tour with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He thought little of the outcome of the design assignment, given to him by a division operations officer, which the Army adopted officially in January 1978. He was made aware of his part in the badge design years later when he recognized his design work seen in a published photograph. He never earned a badge himself.[2][8]

The design was influenced by the Parachutist Badge[9] worn when the division was on jump status, as well as the Glider Badge[10] worn by glider units during World War II. Charles Bloodworth, a pathfinder officer in the 101st during the early 1970s, wrote, "Locally designed and fabricated, the badge was deliberately crafted to mimic the glider wings of WWII. The nose of the Huey took the place of the glider body, and the horizontal rotor blade was the spitting image of the glider wing."[11][citation needed]

The 101st returned from Vietnam to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the 173rd Airborne Brigade was inactivated with its assets transferred to form the division's 3rd Brigade, at the time was on jump status. The remainder of the division was organized as Airmobile. In February 1974, Major General Sidney B. Berry, Commanding General, signed Division General Order 179 authorizing the wearing of the Airmobile Badge effective 1 April 1974, the same date that the 3rd Brigade would terminate its jump status.

Bloodworth describes the transition of the post-war division to fully Air Assault and the adoption of the Air Assault Badge in his article titled, "History of the 101st (Post-Vietnam)."[12]


Student at Fort Hood traverse one of the obstacles during Day Zero.
Students at Fort Riley rehearse maneuvers during Combat Assault Phase.
Students at Fort Hood brace against the propwash of a UH-60 Black Hawk as they prepare to attach a slingload during one of the course's practical exercises.
Students at Camp Gruber practice rappelling from a UH-60 Black Hawk.

Currently, in order for a US servicemember to be awarded the Air Assault Badge, they must first complete a 10 1/2-day course of instruction at the US Army Air Assault School. This course consists of the following phases of training:[13]

  • Day Zero: Candidates must successfully complete an obstacle course and a two-mile run before they are officially considered “Air Assault Students.”
  • Day One: Candidates will undergo a six-mile march, followed by a strict inspection.
  • Combat Assault Phase: During this three-day phase, candidates will learn aircraft safety and orientation, along with the principles of aero-medical evacuation, pathfinder operations, and combat assault operations among several other topics. Soldiers will be given a written and “hands-on” test following this phase.
  • Slingload Operations: During the second three-day phase of Air Assault School, candidates will learn how to rig equipment onto rotary aircraft with a sling, an operation that generally requires the loading soldier to hook a tether to the underbelly of a helicopter hovering just a few feet above the ground. Typical loads can range anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 pounds. Trainees must pass a written and hands-on test before moving to the next phase.
  • Rappelling Phase: In the third and final three-day phase of Air Assault training, soldiers receive basic instruction on ground and aircraft rappelling procedures. By the end of the phase, trainees must complete two rappels from a 34-foot tower and two rappels from a UH-60, hovering at 70–90 feet.
  • Graduation Day: Soldiers must complete a 12-mile foot march in full gear plus a rucksack in less than three hours. Graduates are awarded the Air Assault Badge and the "2B" Additional Skill Identifier (ASI) upon completion of the march.

Training locations

Formal air assault training has been conducted at Fort Campbell, Kentucky by the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) since the Air Assault School was formed in 1974. During the early stages of the occupation of Iraq in late 2003, the division conducted a course in-theater to maintain Air Assault proficiency.[14]

Air Assault training is also offered by the Army National Guard (ARNG) Warrior Training Center[15] at Fort Benning, which conducts training both at the post and at a variety of other locations throughout the United States[16] by means of Mobile Training Teams.

A III Corps Air Assault School was announced for Fort Hood that was to start in June 2012.[17]

The first class of the XVIII Airborne Corps Air Assault School at Fort Bragg, NC graduated on October 4, 2013[18] Due to funding and manpower issue, its closure was announced on May 10, 2019[19]

Air assault training has also been conducted for varying periods of time at other locations, although many do not currently do so (2019):

Wearing of the badge

Wear of the Air Assault Badge on the U.S. Army Class A Service Uniform

The wearing of the Air Assault Badge on Army uniforms is governed by DA PAM 670-1, "Guide to the Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia." Under this DA PAM, the Air Assault Badge is defined as a Group 4 precedence special skill badge which governs its wear in relation to other combat and special skill badges and tabs.[53] The basic eligibility criteria for the badge consist of satisfactory completion of an air assault training course in accordance with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's standardized Air Assault Core Program of Instruction or completion of a standard Air Assault Course while assigned or attached to the 101st Airborne Division since 1 April 1974.[1]

Vietnam veterans of the 101st Airborne Division and 1st Cavalry Division have sought the retroactive award of the Air Assault Badge for their training and pioneering experience in combat, but the Army has yet to grant their request.[54]

Background trimmings

Air Assault Badge with background trimming of 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

When the 101st Airborne Division was converted to air assault, it adopted the wear of the cloth background trimming (ovals) that are used to identify active airborne units --that is worn behind the U.S. Army's Parachutist Badge-- vice those who have earn their Parachutist Badge but are not assigned to an active airborne unit. According to DA PAM 670-1, "a background trimming is authorized for organizations designated (by structure, equipment and mission) 'Airborne' or 'Air Assault' by Headquarters, Department of the Army. Qualified personnel are authorized to wear the background trimming with the Parachutist Badge or Air Assault Badge."[53] The following are background trimmings currently authorized for wear behind the Air Assault Badge:

Background trimmings have been denied by the US Army Institute of Heraldry to other units with a parenthetical designation of “Air Assault” such as the California Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment. The rationale given by The Institute of Heraldry was that units outside of the 101st Airborne Division did not have an "air assault mission." The reason various ARNG units were organized according to the Air Assault Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) was because such units were authorized fewer personnel and less equipment, thus making them less expensive to operate and maintain. They were not organized with actual air assault missions in mind.[55][56]

With the division's loss of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade in 2015, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) has the same MTOE as most light infantry divisions of the U.S. Army. However, media reports state the Army is actively working to restore the 101st's aviation lift capacity so it can return to brigade–size air assaults, what made the 101st unique.[57]

Air Force wear

All of the military services can send personnel to the U.S. Army's Air Assault Schools, but only the U.S. Air Force allows for the Air Assault Badge to be worn on the uniform. For several decades only U.S. Air Force personnel attached to the 101st Airborne Division were allowed to wear the badge and only while assigned, paralleling U.S. Army policy from 1974 to 1978 for Army soldiers. However, as of the 17 January 2014 update to AFI36-2903, U.S. Air Force personnel are authorized to wear the Air Assault Badge along with other special skill badges they have earned through other uniformed services. This means that only the U.S. Army and Air Force authorize their personnel to wear the Air Assault Badge upon graduation of Air Assault School.[58][59][60][61]

Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard wear

The Air Assault Badge is not authorized for wear on uniforms of the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps.[62][63] Recently, with the proper documentation filed in a unit's admin department, prior U.S. Army service members who have enlisted or commissioned in the U.S. Coast Guard may wear the Air Assault Badge in accordance with the latest revision of the U.S. Coast Guard's uniform regulations.[64]


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External links

  • Airmobile: The Early Years in the United States, 1963-1965