|United States Army Pathfinder School|
|Branch||United States Army|
|Role||Special skills training|
|Part of||Army National Guard Warrior Training Center|
|Garrison/HQ||Fort Benning, Georgia|
|Motto(s)||"First In, Last Out"|
|Headgear worn by special skills instructors, known as "Black Hats"|
|US Army Pathfinder Badge, awarded upon graduation|
The United States Army Pathfinder School trains personnel in the U.S. Army and its sister services to set up parachute drop zones and helicopter landing zones for airborne and air assault missions.
The school's three-week course trains pathfinder candidates to navigate on foot; establish and operate a helicopter landing zone; establish and operate parachute drop zones (DZs), including computed air release system (CARP) DZs, ground marked release system (GMRS) DZs and Army verbally initiated release system (VIRS) DZs; conduct sling load operations; and provide air traffic control (ATC) and navigational assistance to rotary wing (RW) and fixed wing (FW) airborne operations.
All training and airborne operations are conducted in accordance with FM 3-21.220 (Static Line Parachuting Techniques and Training) and FM 3-21.38 (Pathfinder Operations).
In November 2020, a spokesman from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) said the Army would close the Pathfinder School to save money and help the Army shift to large-scale combat operations.However, the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center Mobile Training Team at Fort Benning continue to offer Pathfinder classes for guard members.
The modern U.S. Army Pathfinders are elite soldiers making up less than .01% of the total Army. Their primary mission is to set up parachute drop zones and helicopter landing zones for airborne and air assault missions.
The Pathfinders were created in World War II when American paratrooper units needed a way to mark areas and guide aircraft to a specific spot. Early airborne operations resulted in scattered drops up to seven miles from the target. Darkness and inclement weather made it extremely difficult for aircraft to find the drop zone. The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division were working on an idea they had learned from the British. An elite force would go in prior to the main assault with visual and electronic signaling devices to guide aircraft to the drop zone and gliders to their landing zones. Their first use in combat was 13 September 1943 during combat jumps into Italy.
WWII-era Pathfinders are most remembered for their jump into Normandy during the invasion of 1944 on June 6th, when they led the way for Allied forces into Europe. They were employed throughout Southern France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany in the course of Allied airborne operations until the end of the war in Europe. They were also used in the Pacific theater with the 11th Airborne Division during the liberation of the Philippines.
The Korean War saw limited use of the Pathfinders by the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team during two combat jumps and operations. The Vietnam War saw the largest use of Pathfinders due to the developments of helicopter insertion and resupply which were pioneered by the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). Nearly every Army aviation battalion had a Pathfinder detachment and deployed them on nearly every mission.
After the Vietnam War pathfinders were with the major Airborne units and various combat aviation battalions/groups. They also saw a growth in Army National Guard and Army Reserve Pathfinder platoons during the 1970s and 1980s. Many conducted joint task force missions in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East.
In the late 1980s through 1990 the Army started inactivating its pathfinder units in the belief those skills could be learned by regular troops attending Air Assault School and by individuals within the unit who were pathfinder qualified. Operations during the Panama invasion and the Gulf War showed that Pathfinders were an important factor in successful airborne operations and the Army needed more of them. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which had retained a pathfinder unit during and after the Vietnam War, expanded its existing company and raised a second in 2005 by converting its long range surveillance detachment (LRSD) into another pathfinder company, giving each of its two aviation brigades a company. The 82nd Airborne Division followed suit by converted its LRSD to a pathfinder company under the 2d Battalion, 82nd Aviation Regiment. Additionally, the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) at Fort Drum, New York, and the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii have formed provisional pathfinder companies (e.g., they are not reflected in the units' tables of organization and equipment) and conduct combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The pathfinder units today still live by the motto of "First In-Last Out" and wear the Pathfinder Torch.
From a high of five pathfinder companies in the past decade, a reduction began with the 15 May 2015 inactivation of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade in the 101st Airborne Division, which included the brigade's pathfinder company. Concurrently the 101st CAB was redesignated as the CAB, 101st Airborne Division, bringing it in line with other non-numbered divisional CABs. At this point the division assumed the same organizational structure as the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit.
In the summer of 2016 the provisional pathfinder company in the 25th Infantry Division was inactivated, followed by the inactivation on 2 August 2016 of the remaining pathfinder company in the 101st Airborne Division in a ceremony at Fort Campbell, and then the provisional company in the 10th Mountain Division by October 2016. The last pathfinder unit in the Army, a company authorized by MTOE in the 82d Airborne Division, was inactivated in a ceremony on 24 February 2017 at Simmons Army Airfield at Fort Bragg.
Training at the Pathfinder School continues, but there are no more pathfinder units.
All applicants must have passed a valid physical examination within five years, have a minimum profile of 111121, have no speech impediment, have passed the APFT within the last six months and meet the Army height and weight standards IAW AR 600-9.
Physicals for airborne qualified personnel must indicate “cleared to participate in airborne operations.”
Applicants must have six months of service remaining on active duty upon completion of the course.
Officers: Active Army, reserve, or national guard officers (O–1 through O-3) assigned to a billet documented with the skill identifier “5Q” indicating a requirement to possess pathfinder skills in the most recent personnel management authorization document or updated authorization document. Attendance is restricted to officers in the following branches:
Enlisted: Active Army, reserve or national guard soldiers at the grades of E–3 through E–7, that have an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery–General Technical score of 110 or above, and are from the following military occupational specialties can attend Pathfinder School:
Other Services: Active and reserve U.S. Marine Corps officers in the grades of O–1 through O–3 and enlisted personnel in the grades of E–4 through E–7 in logistics and combat arms may attend. Active and reserve U.S. Air Force enlisted personnel serving as combat control team/forward air controllers in the grades of E–5 thought E–7 may attend.
Foreign Students: This course is releasable to military students from foreign countries on a case by case basis. Foreign countries desiring to place students in this course must meet one or more of the following criteria: (1) Have a signed letter of intent (2) Have a waiver from HQDA (3) Have USG release for training. Units sponsoring foreign students must ensure they meet all course prerequisites prior to reporting for pathfinder training.
Student will in-process and receive pathfinder orientation. Students will begin learning sling load nomenclature, air craft capabilities and sling load theory. Pathfinder students will identify nomenclature, air capabilities and deficiencies verbatim. A test of 4 different sling loads will be conducted where each Pathfinder student will clearly define each deficiency found.
Students will be taught how to establish and operate HLZ/PZs. Students will be taught to establish day/night DZs (CARP, GMRP, and VIRS) for the insertion of personnel and equipment. Students will understand the 8 selection factors for selecting a drop zone and the duties and responsibilities of the drop zone support team leader (DZSTL). Students will complete the Basic Airborne Refresher (if applicable) and will be taught how to perform the duties of the GTA during a VIRS drop.
Students will gain technical competence on the static load/unload procedures for a UH-60 and will be able to perform the duties in every position of the sling load hook-up team. Students will demonstrate the knowledge they have been taught during the course during the FTX, during which they are evaluated as a team leader/assistant team leader and ground to air/internal net recorder. Students will demonstrate proficiency in all areas of pathfinder operations and meet all graduation requirements.
Graduates from the US Army Pathfinder School are awarded the Pathfinder Badge.
Col. Robert L. Howard Award
The Col. Robert L. Howard Award is awarded to the Distinguished Honor Graduate (DHG) of the Pathfinder class, with the highest overall grade point average with first time "gos" in every event.
Instructor of the Cycle
The title of Instructor of the Cycle will be awarded to the instructor that the students and Instructors vote had the greatest positive impact throughout the course of training.
Instructors at the U.S. Army Pathfinder School are the famed and feared "Black Hats," named for the black baseball caps they wear as a part of their garrison uniform. The Black Hat is a symbol of expertise, awarded to Airborne, Jumpmaster, and Pathfinder instructors who are certified to teach others how to properly conduct airborne operations.
Pathfinders students are drawn primarily from the U.S. Army, but its sister services send students as well. For all prospective students, an assignment in a billet requiring pathfinder skills is generally required. In the Army, prospective students would most likely be assigned to pathfinder units, like those found in the 101st, 10th Mountain and 82nd Airborne. In the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps, prospective students would most likely be assigned to a unit conducting drop zone operations, helicopter operations or special operations units.
A paratrooper is a military parachutist—someone trained to parachute into a military operation, and usually functioning as part of an airborne force. Military parachutists (troops) and parachutes were first used on a large scale during World War II for troop distribution and transportation. Paratroopers are often used in surprise attacks, to seize strategic objectives such as airfields or bridges.
Airborne forces are ground combat units carried by aircraft and airdropped into battle zones, typically by parachute drop or air assault. Parachute-qualified infantry and support personnel serving in airborne units are also known as paratroopers.
The 101st Airborne Division is a light infantry division of the United States Army that specializes in air assault operations. It can plan, coordinate, and execute multiple battalion-size air assault operations to seize terrain. These operations can be conducted by mobile teams covering large distances, fighting behind enemy lines, and working in austere environments with limited or degraded infrastructure. Its unique battlefield mobility and high level of training have kept it in the vanguard of U.S. land combat forces in recent conflicts: for example, foreign internal defense and counterterrorism operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Syria, as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
The 11th Airborne Division is a United States Army airborne formation, first activated on 25 February 1943, during World War II. Consisting of one parachute and two glider infantry regiments, with supporting troops, the division underwent rigorous training throughout 1943. It played a vital role in the successful Knollwood Maneuver, which was organized to determine the viability of large-scale American airborne formations after their utility had been called into question following a disappointing performance during the Allied invasion of Sicily.
In military organizations, a pathfinder is a specialized soldier inserted or dropped into place in order to set up and operate drop zones, pickup zones, and helicopter landing sites for airborne operations, air resupply operations, or other air operations in support of the ground unit commander. Pathfinders first appeared in World War II, where they served with distinction, and continue to serve an important role in today's modern armed forces, providing commanders with the option of flexibly employing air assets.
The United States Army Ranger School is a 62-day small unit tactics and leadership course that develops functional skills directly related to units whose mission is to engage the enemy in close combat and direct fire battles.
The Air Assault Badge 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.
16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, from 1999 to 2021 16 Air Assault Brigade, is a formation of the British Army based in Colchester in the county of Essex. It is the Army's rapid response airborne formation and is the only brigade in the British Army focused on delivering air assault operations.
The Pathfinder Platoon is a pathfinder unit of the British Army, and an integral part of 16 Air Assault Brigade. The Pathfinder Platoon acts as the brigade's advance force and reconnaissance force. Its role includes locating and marking drop zones and helicopter landing zones for air landing operations. Once the main force has landed, the platoon provides tactical intelligence and offensive action roles for the brigade.
The 502nd Infantry Regiment, previously titled the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, is an infantry regiment of the United States Army. The regiment was established shortly after U.S. entry into World War II, and was assigned as a regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, "The Screaming Eagles", one of the most decorated formations of the U.S. Army. The regiment saw substantial action in the European Theater of World War II and was inactivated in 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Reactivating in a new form in 1956, the 502nd Infantry has served in the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, Iraq War, War in Afghanistan, and Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. Since 1974, the regiment has been classified as an Air Assault unit. Currently, its 1st and 2nd battalions are active. Both battalions are assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, now the 507th Infantry Regiment, is an airborne infantry regiment of the United States Army. The regiment was initially assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II before transferring to the 17th Airborne Division. Now 1st Battalion, 507th Infantry Regiment is part of the United States Army Infantry School, subordinate to its Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, responsible for the Army's Basic Airborne School, Jumpmaster School, Pathfinder School, and the "Silver Wings" Command Exhibition Parachute Team.
The United States Army Airborne School – widely known as Jump School – conducts the basic paratrooper training for the United States Armed Forces. It is operated by the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Infantry, United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia. The Airborne School conducts the Basic Airborne Course, which is open to troops from all branches of the United States Department of Defense, Reserve Officer Training Corps, and allied military personnel.
The 509th Infantry Regiment is an airborne infantry regiment of the United States Army. The unit was initially activated as a single battalion, the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in October 1941 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Nicknamed "Geronimo", the 509th conducted the U.S. Army's first combat jump during World War II on 8 November 1942, flying 1,500 miles from England to seize Tafarquay airport in Oran, Algeria. The 509th made a total of five combat jumps during the war.
United States Army Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leaders Course (RSLC) is a 29-day school designed on mastering reconnaissance fundamentals of officers and non-commissioned officers eligible for assignments to those units whose primary mission is to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, target acquisition, and combat assessment operations. RSLC is taught by the 4th Ranger Training Battalion, Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. The school is open to Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen to train them to expert levels in reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, battle damage assessment, communications, planning, foreign vehicle identification, and other skills. The school was originally created to serve leaders from Long Range Surveillance Units (LRSU's), but now provides the specific reconnaissance training needed to ensure the effectiveness of small unit reconnaissance elements for the U.S. Army and joint force. Given the training focus and difficulty of the RSLC, the school is still commonly attended by operators from U.S. Army Special Forces, the 75th Ranger Regiment's Regimental Reconnaissance Company, U.S. Army Civil Affairs, Navy SEALs, and Marine reconnaissance units; today's students also come from more conventional infantry, Stryker and armored Brigade Combat Teams (BCT). Following the US Army decision to disband US Army LRS companies, the reconnaissance fundamentals taught in the course also provides U.S. military commanders the ability to preserve key LRS skills and abilities within the conventional force.
The United States Army Air Assault School, officially the Sabalauski Air Assault School (TSAAS), is a Army Forces Command Table of Distribution and Allowances unit located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Its primary task is training leaders and soldiers assigned to the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT), other United States Army units, and United States Armed Forces service members. The school is named for Command Sergeant Major Walter James Sabalauski.
The Regimento de Paraquedistas, based in Tancos, Portugal, is a unit of the Portuguese Army and serves as the instruction center for recruitment and training of the Portuguese paratroopers. This unit includes an entire battalion, acting as support and reserve for airborne units which contains for example, military war dogs and airborne pathfinders and an instruction battalion responsible for the forming of new paratroopers.
The U.S. airborne landings in Normandy were the first U.S. combat operations during Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy by the Western Allies on June 6, 1944, during World War II. Around 13,100 American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions made night parachute drops early on D-Day, June 6, followed by 3,937 glider troops flown in by day. As the opening maneuver of Operation Neptune the two American airborne divisions were delivered to the continent in two parachute and six glider missions.
Mission Boston was a parachute combat assault at night by Major General Matthew Ridgway's U.S. 82nd "All American" Airborne Division on June 6, 1944, part of the American airborne landings in Normandy during World War II. Boston was a component element of Operation Neptune, the assault portion of the Allied invasion of Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord. 6,420 paratroopers jumped from nearly 370 C-47 Skytrain troop carrier aircraft into an intended objective area of roughly 10 square miles (26 km2) located on either side of the Merderet river on the Cotentin Peninsula of France, five hours ahead of the D-Day landings.
The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was an airborne infantry regiment of the United States Army, first activated during World War II under Colonel Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen. It formed the parachute infantry element of the 11th Airborne Division. The full history of the regiment is the subject of the book, When Angels Fall: From Toccoa to Tokyo, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II (2019) by author and historian Jeremy C. Holm whose grandfather served in the regiment's Company D during the war.
The United States Army Jumpmaster School trains personnel in the skills necessary to jumpmaster a combat-equipped jump and the proper attaching, jumping, and releasing of combat and individual equipment while participating in an actual jump that is proficient in the duties and responsibilities of the Jumpmaster and Safety; procedures for rigging individual equipment containers and door bundles; personnel parachute components by their specific nomenclature and characteristics; procedures and standards required to conduct a JumpMaster Personnel Inspection (JMPI); the duties and responsibilities of the Drop Zone Safety Officer; the presentation of the Jumpmaster briefing and sustained airborne training (SAT); and the execution of the duties of a Jumpmaster and Safety from a USAF aircraft during a day/night combat equipment jump.