Officially designated as the Basic Airborne Course (BAC) but known throughout the military as Airborne School. Even more informally referred to as jump school.
In theory, the primary purpose of the US Army Airborne School is to qualify and instruct soldiers in the individual level aspects of Airborne operations. In practice, the primary purpose of the jump school as it exists today is to jump qualify to anyone who can pass the course. This is a subtle, but important difference. The sad fact is that the true goal of the majority of the student attendees is not to ultimately serve in an Airborne unit, but to obtain bragging rights over the legs.
It is my understanding that in the distant past, jump wings were difficult to earn. Today, the mystique of the Airborne has lead to a softening of the hardcore nature of the school. Everyone wants to be Airborne because, well, the Airborne are just plain cool. This means that everyone from the most earnest young private to the geekiest ROTC cadet to the aging supply sergeant who wants to go before he is too old is given a shot. There was one freshly commisioned female nurse in my stick who physically could not walk when she was loaded out for our night tactical jump - motivated and had hooah attitude but highly unlikely in real life. One of my buddies had a 41 year old master sergeant in his stick. Evidently, he had recieved an age waiver and was in attendance because it was the last thing he wanted to do before he retired. On the other hand, there are also SEALs, Marines, and freshly tabbed graduates of Ranger School in attendance so the true hardcases are there, they're just not a majority. What amazed me was the guys falling out of easy paced formation runs. I am not much of a runner myself, (no, scratch that, I'm a terrible runner) but if you can't do a four mile run in formation, you have no business being there.
In my opinion, Airborne school is a victim of its own popularity. It is half assed because it can't decide between being a hardcore guts-and-willpower weedout course or a pure technical skills qualification course. You recieve just enough harrassment and punishment PT from the black hats for things to get mildly unpleasant - just enough to get really annoying but not enough to test your will. Just enough bruising and superficial injuries to get in the way of training at your peak, but not enough to require a serious gut check. On the other hand, for a lot of the desk jockey types, Airborne is the most mentally and physically demanding military course they will ever attend so I suppose that's one way of keeping the Airborne mystique alive.
Ground Week and Tower Week consists of watching bad demonstrations, listening to incoherent lectures, PT and running to and from training areas. Its like the School (if not all of US Airborne TRADOC) is stuck in the 40's. How about some good hi-res slow-motion videos? How about a large series pictures and visual aids? What about actual harnessed demonstrations instead of hard to picture and hard to relate to mimed demos? The first two weeks could easily be condensed down to four, maybe five days tops, but for historical reasons, the course will probably always remain three weeks in duration. I left Benning mildly annoyed - I had my wings but felt that more that half my time was time spent wasted. I had a much more positive experience at Air Assault. Even though Air Assault was much more physically and mentally demanding, the training was conducted in a more intelligent, rational and professional manner.
If you plan on attending jump school, try to manage it so you attend during the spring or fall. Georgia summers are a bitch. Remembering Fort Benning summers from when I was a milbrat I pulled what I thought was the smart play and signed up to go during my winter break. I found out that it does get cold in Georgia in January and that falling down from a significant height onto cold, hard ground really kinda sucks. Class sizes are smaller in winter so there is less waiting around, which is good. But it also means that at any given moment, there is more of a chance that a black hat has his eyeballs on you, which is bad. If you go during the summer, remember to keep yourself hydrated. I knew more than one attendee who ended up getting recycled due to dehydration related heat injuries
If you are in decent physical shape, the toughest part of jump school will be dealing with all the sawdust. It will get everywhere. In your eyes, in your ears, in your pants. Everywhere. Due to this condition, students requiring corrective lenses must wear contraceptive eyewear and are not allowed to wear contacts. I knew a lot of guys who wore contacts. Like any rule or reg you can break it, the key is to not get caught. I got caught sleeping on the aircraft on my fourth jump... Don't get caught.
If and when you graduate, remember, the coolest thing about being jump qualified isn't a pair of those little silver wings or a goofy commemorative coin, its the right to tell jump stories to your wide eyed friends.
Some corrections regarding patientfoxes's writeup.
US Army Airborne tradition starts long before Operation Overlord Normandy, June 1944. The 82nd made a combat drop into Salerno, Italy as a part of Operation Avalanche in September 1943. Two months prior to that, the 82nd jumped into on Sicily in July 1943. There is even a case preceding that one, where the 509th PIB made a drop into Algeria as a part of Operation Torch/North African Campaign.