Tag Archive for: U.S. Army paratrooper

Army Quietly Dropped 5-Mile Run Requirement From Airborne School In 2018

A reader sent us the Task & Purpose article below. As a U.S. Army paratrooper we were the elite of the elite. I, like many others, served in airborne units during our careers.

I served in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, in peace time in the Airborne, Electronics and Special Warfare Board, the 7th Special Forces Group and in the 18th Airborne Corps.

Lowering any military standard means inextricably lowering our ability to fight and win wars. 

Without a physically fit military we put our solders and our nation in danger.

To lower standards of service borders on dereliction of duty.


Army quietly dropped 5-mile run requirement from airborne school in 2018

Students still must complete 3-mile runs for the Basic Airborne Course.

BY JEFF SCHOGOL | PUBLISHED MAR 1, 2024

The Army’s Basic Airborne Course at Fort Moore, Georgia, is meant to prepare students for the challenges of life as a paratrooper.

What you may not have heard until now is that service members who attend the course are no longer required to complete a 5-mile run to graduate. That requirement went away several years ago, but many graduates of the course remember it as an essential part of earning their Airborne wings.

Also known as “airborne school,” the course is a requirement for any service member that goes to a unit that requires active jump status, including soldiers assigned to the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and most special operations forces.

While at the course, classes regularly run in formation for physical training, or PT, at a slow pace somewhere between a march and jog that is meant to build stamina. The pace is known colloquially as the “Airborne Shuffle.” As a vintage Army recruiting commercial from years ago put it: Airborne students, “Run until your legs get tough, so when you hit, it’s the ground that hurts.”

One of the prerequisites for the Basic Airborne Course is that service members must be able to run 3 miles at a 9-minute pace. Once they attend jump school, students are required to go on 3-mile runs as part of the three-week training.

But a requirement for students to complete a  5-mile run prior to graduation is no longer part of the curriculum. An Army Reddit user recently posted that he had just learned the Army had nixed the longer run in favor of 2- and 3-mile runs for airborne students.

Task & Purpose checked and learned that the U.S. Army Infantry School dropped the 5-mile run as a graduation requirement for the Basic Airborne Course in 2018, according to  Col. Scott P. Knight, U.S. Army Infantry School Deputy Commandant

“Analysis found the physical training requirements did not correlate with meeting any course learning objectives related to static line parachute operations such as safely donning a parachute, exiting a high-performance aircraft, controlling descent, or performing a parachute landing fall,” Knight told Task & Purpose.

The reason why soldiers may be learning only now that the 5-mile run is no longer a Basic Airborne Course graduation requirement is the Infantry School does not make formal announcements when it changes its programs of instruction, according to the Army.

The school reviews all its courses every two years to make sure they are as rigorous and relevant as possible, Knight said.

“We continue to maintain physical course prerequisites as well as graduation requirements for successful completion of the Airborne Course,” Knight said.

However, one service member told Task & Purpose that the 5-mile run helped to weed out troops who were not strong enough to serve in airborne units.

The Army overall has de-emphasized running in favor of weightlifting and CrossFit training, said the paratrooper senior noncommissioned officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid potential reprisal.

“It makes your legs stronger, which helps your legs whenever you are jumping,” the paratrooper said. “It also makes you lighter; that way, you’re not dropping with so much weight. And then, usually we drop to an objective, and then you’ve got to move to the objective. So, if you’re fit cardiovascular-wise, then it will help you make it to the objective.”

Retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger conceded that the Basic Airborne Course is not as physically demanding as when he went through it in 1972. At the time, students ran everywhere, including from their barracks to training areas; and when they had extra time, they had to do pushups and sit-ups.

However, the main purpose of jump school is not to get soldiers in shape but to make sure that students know how to use their parachutes, respond to emergencies, and develop a sense of self-confidence and an aggressive spirit, said Mellinger, a former Special Forces military freefall instructor. Being able to run 5 miles is not essential to learning how to jump out of airplanes, he said.

“I don’t know that a 5-mile run added a whole lot,” Mellinger said. “It sure made us tired, but I don’t know that it enhanced our ability to safely load an airplane, don a parachute, perform emergency procedures, and land safely under difficult conditions.”

By the time service members graduate from the Basic Airborne Course, they have learned the fundamentals about how to safely jump from an aircraft and land, Mellinger said. It isn’t until they join their units and go through more advanced training that they become proficient paratroopers.

“If that is an airborne unit, I guarantee you those NCOs and officers of that airborne unit will look at them and say: ‘OK, you’ve only got five jumps. So, we’re going to enhance your training.’ And they’re going to add their organizational emphasis, whatever that may be. It always involves a lot more physical training.”

Mellinger also said that some service members will always believe that making training less difficult is the same as lowering standards. He noted that the many noncommissioned officers objected when the Army allowed soldiers to run in shoes instead of boots years ago.

Rather than hurting readiness, the change prevented soldiers from injuring their knees while running, he said.

Overall, the Basic Airborne Course is meeting its goal of teaching students how to safely use their parachutes, Mellinger said.

“I think if you stand out on that drop zone and watch those young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines get out of that aircraft, they have accomplished the task they are there to do,” Mellinger said. “That is to use that parachute, learn a little bit about leadership, learn a lot about self-confidence and spirit, land safely, recover your equipment, put a big smile on their face, and move on to their first unit of assignment.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Schogol is a senior staff writer for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years, with previous bylines at the Express-Times in Easton, Pennsylvania, Stars & Stripes, and Military Times. You can email him at schogol@taskandpurpose.com, direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter, or reach him on WhatsApp and Signal at 703-909-6488. Contact the author here.

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