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First There

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Todd Wivell
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
(Note: This is part five of a 13-part series on the Combat Control School training program. Combat Control instructors and students are identified by their rank and first name only.)

The combat controller motto of "First There" reaffirms their commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines. These men learn how to rapidly inject themselves into the most hostile areas by whatever means necessary, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to ensure others can safely follow. 

The 19 men of Class 09-003, along with the instructors of the Combat Control School at Pope, honored these 52 fallen comrades with a memorial physical training event April 24 outside the school's front door. 

After a week of classroom instruction on land navigation and successful mid-course PT evaluation in which all 19 trainees passed, the trainees started April 24 with another intense Pit PT program, a session where the trainees are physically strained to their outermost limits. 

The minute the Pit PT session was over, the trainees loaded 60-pound ruck sacks on their backs and began a grueling seven-mile hike around the base. Starting from the schoolhouse, the trainees made the trek as the temperatures began to soar into the high 80's for the first time this year. 

As in almost everything a combat controller does, the 19 trainees started this ruck march as a team, singing cadences along the way, and ended as a team getting back to the schoolhouse in preparation for their memorial PT, known as "memorials." 

With time to catch a quick drink from their canteen and drop their ruck sacks, the trainees lined up in a "V" formation, leading from the front of the schoolhouse out to the CCS memorial headstone honoring their fallen comrades. With all the poise of an honor guard team, the class stood at parade rest and looked as if they had presented honors 100 times before. 

Next, the instructors proceeded out in a column formation from the schoolhouse and called the entire class to attention, then each student called out the names of the 52 fallen combat controllers in a fitting tribute to those who had given so much. 

Then, the instructors marched out in stride, and as each one passed the memorial headstone he laid a hand on it as a gesture of appreciation for those men giving their ultimate sacrifice. 

Falling back into formation the instructors spread out and began memorials, in which everyone -- including the trainees -- did 10 pushups for their fallen brethren. The instructors went back and touched the memorial one more time as the trainees watched with emotion in their eyes. With that, memorials session was over, but it is something the trainees would never forget. 

As Class 09-003 completed week five of training and got that much closer to their goal of the red beret, it was evident they fully understood what they're here for. They understand what the combat controller motto of "First There" actually means, the sacrifices they will be asked to make, the understanding that at times they will be the first to set foot in hostile areas, the understanding that the rest of us rely on them and the understanding of the honor bestowed upon them, an honor that was remembered April 24 as the 19 men and instructors of CCS completed their memorial PT.