U.S. Marines – United States Marine Corps

Fear of Heights

With nearly three months of recruit training under their belts, the recruits of Company G have conquered many fears and challenges that they never thought were possible. They have qualified with a rifle, swam in a full combat load and endured grueling physical fitness sessions. With only a couple weeks remaining in boot camp, the recruits are given a task to complete that reaches new levels of fear: the rappel tower.

The day consists of hours of lecture, where recruits learn the proper techniques for rappelling as well as how to create the safety harness that will hold them securely when rappelling. The harness is made using a six-foot rope that is wrapped around the legs and hips and secured by a series of square knots.

Before stepping foot on the tower, recruits are issued the respective safety gear prior to the training evolution. With the assistance of a tactical helmet, gloves, ropes, carabiner and a spotter, recruits make their descent safely to the ground.

“The rappel tower gives these recruits chance to let go of any lasting fears and build their confidence,” Staff Sgt. Nathan Stocking, Platoon 2146, Company G. “At first they seem nervous and shy, but if they just focus on the technique they are taught, they will be fine. Rappel is a simple concept.”

Recruits get the opportunity to learn different rappelling techniques such as fast roping and wall rappelling.

Fast roping, a method used for quick insertion on an objective from a helicopter’s hell hole, is the first technique recruits learn during this training phase. Sliding down a 15-foot rope to the ground, the fast roping technique is similar to the way a fire fighter slides down a pole during an emergency. The term hell hole refers to an opening in a helicopter’s fuselage.

Once landing safely on the ground, the recruits do their best to quickly clear the landing zone so the following recruit can go down quickly and swiftly as well.

The other technique recruits learn is the wall rappel. This method is also used with a safety harness, and simulates rappelling down the side of a building. While on top of the 60-foot tower, some recruits begin to get nervous. However, their senior drill instructors and Instructional Training Company drill instructors are close by to offer words of encouragement.

“I used to rock climb all the time before recruit training, so I wasn’t nervous about heights,” said Recruit Thomas Binder, Platoon 2146, Co. G, “My drill instructor helped me put on my harness extra tight, and I felt safe and carefree.”

Recruit Matthew Geiger, Platoon 2141, Co. G, on the other hand, said that he was apprehensive initially, but after the training he received he had confidence in the gear and knew he would be safe.

“Despite all of their initial fears, once they go down the first time, they usually want to go again,” said Stocking. “Unfortunately, a lot of them won’t get another chance to rappel in the Fleet Marine Force, with the exception of a few job specialities such as Helicopter Rope Suspension Technique masters.”

HRST operations encompass Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction, rappel, fast rope and helocast.

Stocking said that in his primary occupation as an infantry platoon sergeant, he has only rappelled for annual training, but if the time arises when he has to rappel, he will be ready to do so.

Even if this is the first and last time the recruits rappel, the experience of dangling 60 feet in the air is something they are bound to never forget.

“I did a lot better than what I thought I would,” said Geiger. “This experience significantly boosted my self esteem and helped my fear of heights.”


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