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Written By Jeff Tilden on Monday, January 27, 2014 | 10:08 PM

Today I graduated Air Assault School.  I got my wings.  I survived the 12 mile ruck march.  I rappelled from dangerous heights.  And I overcame the mentally draining anal retentiveness that drives you mad during your 10+ days of Air Assault school.

But this post isn't a simple journal about my experience with Air Assault school.  It's not a brag session about how physically and mentally fit I am, because I'm not!  This post is about what truly needs to be trending in this story..... It's God's overwhelming grace and power to allow me to do things I never could do without Him.  It's about God's magnificent plan and how no obstacle stands in His way in getting His plan accomplished.  It's how a simple thing like Air Assault school opened my eyes to God's handiwork once again.

DAY -1 #GodHasAPlan

Why did I even sign up for Air Assault School?  I could care less about being a "bad to the bone" "tough as nails" chaplain.  Frankly, I know I'm not that kinda guy.  So why was I about to start this venture that is labelled by many as one of the Army's toughest schools?  I sincerely asked myself this question as I ran into a formation early on Day -1 in the 25 degree cold.

For those who don't get it, Day -1 is technically not a full Air Assault School day.  Its a day of in-processing, paperwork, and getting ready for the school to start.  Day Zero is a sort of physical tryout to get into the course.  I'll talk more about that later.  However, Day 1 starts the actual Air Assault training.

At Day -1, I still had a while before I got there.  My biggest question was "why am I here?".  I felt that I wanted to do Air Assault School because 1. Its what I grew up knowing.  My dad did Air Assault and I grew up around Ft Campbell.  2.  People have been telling me since my first day in the Army that I needed to do schools like Air Assault.  3.  I felt it may open more doors and opportunities for ministry.  4.  It sounded like fun.

Other than those things, I was clueless as to why I was here.  I was nervous.  #abouttowetmypants

I'm not used to this type of environment....high Army stress, people yelling at me like I'm an idiot, and having to pay super close attention to every little detail.  What have I got myself into?

Besides the nerves, Day -1 wasn't too bad.  Well, it wasn't too bad until they gave us a chance to practice the obstacle course.  Day Zero was going to consist of having to successfully complete the obstacle course.  If you fail the obstacle course, you go home.  I had been wanting a chance to navigate the obstacle course for months.  I made phone calls, sent e-mails, and tried to schedule opportunities for me to practice the Air Assault obstacles.  But honestly, I never really got a fair chance to practice them.  I did practice elements of the obstacles.  I practiced rope climbing, pull-ups, and wall climbing.  However, for some reason, it never worked out for me to get on the obstacle course before Day -1. #hopefullyGodHasAPlan

He does.

I quickly became discouraged when I could not navigate the Low Belly Over.  I could not jump high enough to land onto the other log.  #notcool

After trying it 5 times unsuccessfully, I decided to move on to another obstacle.  My thought was, maybe I can gain some confidence from doing these other obstacles with ease.  I went over to the Rope Swing.  You have to swing on a rope onto a high log.  My first two attempts.....unsuccessful.  #whatisgoingon

These are a lot harder for me than I thought!  I felt I was strong enough.  I run all the time.  I have a high PT score.  I should be fine.  However, I was having issues.  And I wondered how I would even have a shot to pass these obstacles after they smoked us real bad on Day Zero.

Needless to say, Day -1 left me with more questions, doubts, insecurities, fears, and planning for what I was going to say to everyone when I failed out.

I prayed, "I know you have a plan God.  Help me to trust it."

DAY ZERO-#GodOvercomesObstacles  

I showed up at 0400 on Day Zero, ready to get physically smoked, complete the 2 mile run in time, and attempt to miraculously complete the obstacle course.  The weather wasn't on our side.  It was about 35 degrees and drizzling rain.  It was cold, wet, and nasty.  #iwannagobacktobed

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the workout was.  The smoke session wasn't as bad as I imagined in my mind when people told me about it.  I completed the 2 mile run in plenty of time.  I felt good at this point, but was also dreading the O Course.

In order to pass Day Zero, God was going to have to do work.  I couldn't do it on my own.  I need Him!

When we got to the O Course, we began lining up to navigate the obstacles.  We do 9 obstacles.  7 are called minor obstacles.  2 are major obstacles.  You are not allowed to fail either of the 2 majors.  You are allowed to fail just one of the 7 minors.  If you fail more than one, you are gone.

Because of the weather, we weren't able to do all of the obstacles.  Specifically, we didn't do the 2 majors or the Low Belly Over and Rope Swing.  Good thing was, I passed through these first 5 obstacles with ease.  However, I knew we were going to have to make up the remaining 4, including the toughest of the bunch. #imstillhere

I was thankful to still be hanging around after the long morning.  I was doubtful the night before.  I thought, "at least I won't be showing back up at my unit too early when I fail out".  The weather is at least making me look a little better.

I felt good throughout all of Day Zero until it was time for our first inspection.  At Air Assault School, they give you a specific packing list.  You must pack all of the items they give you in your rucksack and bring it to Air Assault school every day.  If just one item is missing, messed up, or looks ratty you lose points.  If you lose 40 points at Air Assault School, you're gone.  I thought I was doing good with my rucksack, but unfortunately I brought a few of the wrong items.  By the end of the inspection, I had 15 points taken off.  #thissucks

I was very discouraged!  Not only was I staring failure from the obstacles in the face, now I'm staring negative points being thrown in my direction.  I don't like being wrong.  I don't like failure.  So what am I doing here?  I thought maybe that God really wanted to teach me a solid lesson of humility through this.  That's the only reason I could think of as to why He had me here.

That night when I came home, I talked to my wife.  Stephanie noticed I was clearly discouraged and tried her best to encourage me, but I still couldn't help but feel like a I was on the cusp of epic failure.  I was not looking forward to this lesson of humility.

Stephanie reminded me of all the obstacles that God had already help me overcome to get to where I am today.

1.  I weighed 235 pounds in Seminary.  I couldn't even jog a half of a mile.  God allowed me to lose over 70 pounds since then.

2.  I never got a shot to practice the obstacles.  In fact, I had scheduled to practice the obstacles on the 13th of December, but it happened to be raining on that morning.  Because of the rain, they cancelled our practice sessions.  I know now that if I would have bombed so bad on the Low Belly Over and the Rope Swing then I would not have even signed up for Air Assault School.

3.  I came from a comfortable life of working on a church staff.  In less than 2 years, God has opened the door for me to commission in Army active duty as a Chaplain and without any real military knowledge, be successful at it.

I owe God a lot of credit!  He has worked so many wonders in my life.  He can overcome these obstacles.

DAY 1-#GodisClutch

I'm so thankful for my prayer warriors.  I had a group of friends and family who I knew would be strong prayer warriors, praying for me.  James 5:16 says, "the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working".  I believe in the power of prayer!

Knowing that I still had to knock out the remaining 4 obstacles was daunting.  However, I came into Day 1 with a spiritual confidence.  I was confident because of prayer and because I knew God had control of this.

My confidence quickly got punched in the gut when I showed up at formation.  I got another 5 points deducted because of an anal detail that I forgot on labeling my canteen.  #idontevencareanymore

I was ready to be done.  Is this even worth it?  Why does God even want me here?

We headed to the obstacle course that morning and once again began to line up to conduct the obstacles.  We did the 2 majors first.  I prayed as I waited in line.  God allowed me to navigate through the 2 majors with ease.  I was happy.  I was beginning to feel confident again.

All that stood in my way of staying in the course was the 2 remaining minors....the Low Belly Over and the Rope Swing.  My group did the Low Belly Over first.  They give you 2 attempts to pass it.  My first attempt was horrendous.  I didn't even come close.  My second attempt......was even worse.  I hit the log with my chest and bounced off falling quickly to the ground.  My ribs were killing me.  Worse off, I had failed the obstacle.  I was on my last leg.

I had to pass the rope swing in only 2 tries to stay in the class.  As I approached the rope, I suddenly had a calm, confident aura overcome me.  I grabbed the rope, jumped up, and landed perfectly on the log.  Something I struggled to do just 2 days previous.  #GodisClutch

I almost cried in line, thinking of how God had preserved me thus far.  I really thought I was going to fail out today, but God saw to it that I dstick around.

DAY 2 #GodRestores

This was one of the best days for me at Air Assault School.  God restored my confidence, my faith, and my awareness of being reliant upon Him for everything.  Day 1 was a miracle.  However, Day 1 also left me battered, tired, bruised, hurt, and mentally drained.  We began learning about helicopters and combat assault operations.  It was blowing my mind.  I knew nothing about these things before this course began.

We did a 6 mile road march on Day 2, giving us a taste of what was in store if we made it to the last day of Air Assault school......the 12 mile road march.

The 6 miles weren't bad, but it left my feet really blistered.  Not only that, my ribs were hurting from hitting the log with my chest on the previous day.  I was in need of a break!

Fortunately, we got a break.  Day 2 was Friday.  Saturday and Sunday, we had off. #restoration

DAY 3-5 #GodKeepsMeSane

In the first week, we had lost about 10 soldiers.  Some didn't show up on time.  Some couldn't pass the obstacles.  However, we were told at the start of the second week that this was the "knockout phase".  It was Phase 2, Sling Load Operations.  This was where all the attention to anal details was going to really rear its ugly head.  I wasn't too worried about this phase until we began to be overwhelmed by all the talk that many of us were going to fail out by the end of the week.  It was in the statistics.  Half of the group fails out at Phase 2.  #encouraged

Phase 2 mentally drained me.  All the days were long, packed with information, and it was leading to a stressful inspection test that everyone in the class feared.

Fortunately, it opened up the door for me to do some real ministry.  Soldiers were very open to prayer and spiritual conversations as they nervously awaited doomsday on Day 6.  In fact, I led an impromptu prayer session with several Soldiers on Day 5, including getting to pray with one who was an outspoken Muslim.

To add to our brains being scrambled each day, we had to endure a 2 hour smoke session on Day 4 because our rucksacks looked sloppy according to the cadre.  The good thing was, I had prayed specifically for mental strength to endure the long days, yelling, and demanding schedule.  God answered and kept me sane during this stressful week.

DAY 6 #GodIsSoGoodToMe

This was the day of the big Sling Load Inspection Test.  This was the day everyone feared.  I was stressed, but I also knew God was up to something special.  He had me here for a reason.  Truthfully, I still didn't know what that reason was for, but if anything it would all be worth it (fail or pass) to have had the opportunities I had to pray with Soldiers.

I earnestly prayed that I would be a first time "go".  Basically, we had 2 chances to pass this Sling Load Test.  If you passed the first time, you could go home for half of the day and relax.  If you failed the first time, you sat around for about 6 hours awaiting a re-test.  #nothanks

By the amazing grace of God, I passed the first time.  I nearly jumped for joy when I finished the test!  God is way too good to me!  Not everyone got to enjoy the same blessing.  In fact, only a handful of people passed the first time around.

Another Captain in my unit was in the class with me.  He failed his first time.  Later he told me about how agonizing it was to wait around for 6 hours for a re-test. #bummer

11 Soldiers failed the Sling Load Inspection Test, leaving a big hole in our formation.  It was sad to see some of those guys go, but we all knew it was coming.

DAY 7-8 #GodKeepsMeSafe

Day 7, began the third and final week of Air Assault.  We had a 4-day weekend in between Day 6 and 7It was a nice mental break, but it definitely made it difficult to come back.  Week 3 was all about rappelling.  And if we didn't screw up, we awaited the final 12 mile Ruck march and graduation at the end of the week.

Tying our own swiss seat from a rope was challenging for me.  I'm not a boyscout, and tying knots is not something I'm good at.  Luckily, I had the four day weekend to practice.  I sure did practice during that weekend too.  I passed my 90-second swiss seat tying test with ease!

On Day 8, we ended up doing 11 rappels.  This was quite a bit!  My arms were so tired by the end of the day.  They were practically numb.  Thankfully God kept all of us safe, and only one guy failed out because he hooked up his carabiner fatally.

The craziness of the rest of Air Assault School happened at the end of Day 8.  Day 9 was supposed to be an easy day.  We were supposed to get a shot to rappel out of a Blackhawk helicopter.  However, a freak central Texas snowstorm was threatening to show up on Day 10.  So the decision was made to move our 12 mile ruck march up a day early. #ohcrap

I was not cool with this.  I was already so sore from the long day of rappelling.  Now, we have to be ready to ruck 12 miles in the morning?

DAY 9 #GodMakesMyFeetBeautiful

I prepped myself for the big 12 miler by taking as much care of my feet as possible.  I did not want to blister up this time.  I also got on my knees and prayed.  First of all, I was just completely overwhelmed with God's grace and getting me this far.  Secondly, I had come a long way in the last 3 weeks.  Air Assault had made me a better Soldier.  I was more confident.  I was paying closer attention to detail.  By the end of these 3 weeks, my packing list was immaculate!  Thirdly, I knew I needed Him to get me through these 12 miles.

The day before, I was told by the Cadre that I was in the running for Distinguished Honor Grad.  I was one of the Top 4 students in the class.  I could not believe it!  God is too good!  However, to get a shot at the honor grad, I had to beat the other 3 guys out on the ruck march.

I had a dilemma.  I wanted to try for Distinguished Honor Grad.  However, I had also made a promise to my fellow Captain from my unit to stick with him on the first 6 miles of the Ruck march.  He needed my help to stay with the right pace to make the 12 mile ruck march in under the 3 hour time limit.  He was pretty slow.  I knew if I stuck with him that I would have no shot at winning honor grad.

That morning, I turned in my devotional to find that it was highlighting Philippians 2:4. It reads, "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
God was clearly speaking to me.  Graduating Air Assault School was never about me.  Its about God being beyond awesome and having a plan.  My job is to realize that and get on board with His plan.
I made the decision to stick with my battle buddy.

During the ruck I stuck with my battle buddy and another LT that liked our pace.  Two miles into the ruck march my feet started to blister badly.  I knew this wasn't going to end well.  The final 10 miles were painful.  But God saw to it that I made it.  I prayed out loud several times as we were rucking.  "God, take care of my feet."

It hit me as I prayed those words.  I wonder how many carriers of the Gospel prayed that same prayer?  Paul reiterates in Romans 10:15 a thought from Isaiah, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!".

No doubt, the disciples of Christ had some nasty, tore up feet.  Their feet probably looked beyond blistered, burnt, and mangled.  However, their feet were beautiful because of the mileage they took on to further the Kingdom.  It suddenly hit me that this was the reason I was here.  Even if I don't fully understand the implications and reasons behind me doing Air Assault School at this time and in this place, I understand that God is ultimately using me to help further His Kingdom.  Because my commitment is to ministry first and foremost, I know that my feet were burning on this ruck march in an attempt to bring people to the Gospel of truth.

My beautiful feet after the 12 mile ruck march

My feet weren't gorgeous looking after successfully completing the ruck march, but I knew that doors and ministry opportunities were opening and that God was blazing a trail for His truth to be made known.

DAY G-#KeepCalmAndAirAssault

Keep Calm and Air Assault.  That was our class motto.  An unfortunate spoof of the lame Chive slogan.  Nonetheless, I rolled with it like everyone else.  If anything, I tried to embrace the spirit of keeping calm during all the stressful events of Air Assault School.  The only thing that kept me calm was God. #chivethat

God kept me calm through the obstacles, sling loads, rappelling, and through the ruck march.  God made me clutch.  God got me through.  God had a plan.  God got it done. 

As I prepared for the Graduation on Day 10, I was disappointed to get the news that post was closed because of the snow.  Our graduation was cancelled and we'd have to wait until Monday to pin our wings.

The wait ended up not being too bad.  As my beautiful wife and kids pinned my wings, I looked down at the accomplishment that God had made happen.  I know that every time I look at those wings, I'm not gonna think of how "hooah" I am.  I'm gonna be reminded of how awesome God is and how He can make us way better versions of ourselves.  He can make us do things we never would have imagined.  I'm going to be reminded that God has a plan much bigger than us.  And He does all of this for His Kingdom purposes, not ours.

How often do you put yourself into a situation where you will only be successful if God shows up?

That's what Air Assault was for me.  #GodBeastMode

I know there are those that say Air Assault isn't that hard.  I was the second oldest guy in my class.  For this 35 year old Chaplain, Air Assault was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Maybe in a 22 year old body, with a 19 year old's energy, I might think differently.  But for me, it was extremely hard!

It was all GOD!  I'm so thankful for Him and what He teaches me.

I could not have done this without His people.  He provided faithful prayer warriors who prayed heartily for me.  He provided mentors who gave me insight to the course and the spiritual implications of it.  He provided encouragers along the way.  If you're reading this, you are probably one of the people I should be most definitely thanking.  So I will take the opportunity now to say, "THANK YOU".

Thank you for being faithful to the Kingdom!  I pray that this new avenue will allow me to show more people His truth and goodness.  I can't wait!  I'm excited about it!

In the meantime, I'm just gonna keep my eyes fixated on Him and every once in a while, chant a good, hearty AIR ASSAULT out just for kicks and grins.



About Jeff Tilden