Infantry Soldiers in Day 7 of one station unit training took on Sand Hill’s Eagle Tower for the first time Friday.
The members of F Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, took turns climbing and descending the structure, which features “A-frame” steps, wooden ladders and platforms, roped bridges, a cargo net and 52-foot rappel wall. Unit leaders said the obstacle builds teamwork, motivation and confidence for the “Red Phase” of training — which covers the first three weeks — and the remainder of the cycle.
“It’s all about overcoming fear,” said Sgt. 1st Class Philip Richards, the company’s first sergeant. “Ninety percent of people are afraid of heights. The biggest thing for us is to show they can overcome their emotions and fears.
“This gives them a sense of accomplishment. It builds trust between the drill sergeant and private as well. Nothing makes you feel more warm and fuzzy than when your feet hit the ground.”
Some trainees picked up the rappelling techniques quicker than others, springing off the wall and toward the ground. But all urged each other along as they went up and down Eagle Tower.
Pfc. Jesse Matta, 21, of Columbia, Tenn., said he rappelled many times before with his father, as the two would go rock climbing. But the large group made this time different. “There’s definitely more pressure when you have someone else’s life in your hands,” he said. “You have to watch out for your own mistakes and others making mistakes as well, and hope everyone gets through it safely. You have to be safe at all times.”
Staff Sgt. Hector Guzman, NCOIC of Eagle Tower, said attention to detail, focus and following instructions are the keys to overcoming the obstacle.
“They’re scared when they get up there,” Richards said. “They’ve got to listen to everything the drill sergeant tells them to do — and put it in play.”
After reaching the top of Eagle Tower and peering over the edge, Spc. Joseph Avery said he found hope in Hope, his wife back home in Pollocksville, N.C.
“This was my first time doing something like this, and I’m scared of heights, terrified,” the 28-year-old new Soldier said moments after landing on the ground. “As soon as I looked down, I felt like I was gonna have a panic attack. But I counted to five and calmed myself down. Then I imagined my wife at the bottom, telling me it was OK and to come on down.
“I’ve learned to face my fears so far. Once you get through it, you feel like you can press on and do more.”
The company went through the gas chamber Thursday and was set to engage the Sand Hill confidence course Saturday, completing the Week 1 “trifecta,” Richards said. That’s a typical first-week arrangement in the beginning of Infantry OSUT.
“You accomplish something you never thought you’d be able to endure. This is all set up to show them it’s possible,” he said. “We build the team, build their individual confidence, then try to sustain it the rest of the cycle.”
The company’s holiday block leave is set for Dec. 16 to Jan. 4. Graduation is Feb. 10.