NCO and mother of three has what it takes to excel

Written by  //  May 13, 2009  //  Feature Stories

CAMP BLANDING JOINT TRAINING CENTER, Fla. (May 3, 2009) — Earlier this year a Florida National Guard Soldier upheld the spirit of the “Year of the Noncommissioned Officer” by graduating from a course described by some as their “toughest ten days” in the Army.

In February Staff Sgt. Theresa Skene, a Soldier with the 779th Engineer Battalion in Tallahassee, Fla., graduated from the Air Assault course at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center.

The intense course was the first of its kind for the Florida National Guard, mirroring similar courses taught to Active Duty Army Soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Theresa Skene of the Florida Army National Guard's 779th Engineer Battalion (right) receives congratulations from her battalion commander Lt. Col. Dwayne Jarriel, after she successfully completed the Air Assault course at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center in early March. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

Skene, 45, trained with more than 150 other Soldiers from throughout the state during the ten-day Air Assault course; she studied techniques for rappelling from helicopters, learned principles of “sling-loading” equipment under helicopters, and tested her physical and mental stamina.

Skene, a mother of three with nearly twelve years of military service, jumped at the chance to prove herself among the other younger – and predominately male Soldiers – who attended the course to earn the Air Assault Badge.

“My unit let all of us know that in order to go we had to excel in PT or be able to pass at the 17-21 year old standards,” said Skene. “We were also told we had to do a 12 mile road march in less than three hours.”

Skene attended a practice day for the course in January at Camp Blanding, during which she had the opportunity to do the equipment layout, obstacle course and 2 mile run. It was during this “practice” that Skene said she realized how physically demanding the Air Assault course was going to be for her.

“By the time we did the full run-through of obstacles in the afternoon, I was so tired that I couldn’t climb the rope to successfully complete (the final obstacle),” she said.

At the end of the day, each Soldier was rated to see where their fitness level was prior to going to the course; although somewhat demoralized when she was listed as “marginal” by the Air Assault instructors, Skene decided to work even harder.

“I was determined to come back and make it,” said Skene.

To improve her rope climbing skills, Skene concentrated on working her upper body muscles with weight training and worked on learning the best technique to climb a rope. 

“I also did the usual Army Physical Training in the mornings….push-ups, sit-ups, running…and worked out in the evening at the YMCA doing aerobics and kickboxing classes,” added Skene.

Course Commandant Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Rhoden noted that anyone who expected to successfully pass the Air Assault course had to hone their fitness skills before attending training.

“This was the first time in the Florida Army National Guard history that we have taught a course at Camp Blanding that was so physically and mentally challenging,” Rhoden said. 

While nearly one-quarter of the students failed to complete the course, that seemingly high rate of dropouts is not unusual in similar Air Assault courses, according to Air Assault instructors. 

However, not only did Skene make it, she was chosen as a platoon sergeant for the duration of the course. 

Upon completing the course, Skene admitted she learned more about herself: “I learned that I could overcome obstacles, both figuratively and literally, when I put my mind to it.” 

Skene said that being pinned with her Air Assault wings on graduation day meant much more than she ever expected. 

“I wear them with pride,” she said.