Since neutralizing Osama Bin Laden, America's special operations forces have remained in the spotlight as high-caliber leaders entrusted with operations vital to national security. As counter-terrorism operations continue throughout the globe, the Pentagon is currently busy defining irregular warfare requirements for future forces. In response to this need, the U.S. Air Force has embarked on a unique talent search to find the next generation of special operations professionals.
On December 6, the 317th Recruiting Squadron, based in Washington D.C., will be conducting tryouts for aspiring special operations professionals at Langley Air Force Base, Va. In a program known as the AF Special Operations Orientation, applicants will have the opportunity "test their mettle" and qualify for a wide range of Battlefield Airmen, or "BA" positions in the U.S. Air Force.
Evaluation teams will be screening applicants for openings on elite pararescue, combat control, tactical air control, and survival instructor teams. At the same time, candidates will get to hear inspiring stories first-hand from special operations warriors, try out their equipment, and learn about the technologies they wield. And yet, amidst all the technology the Pentagon can place at their fingertips, from night vision goggles, space assets and drone technology--special operations warriors repeatedly demonstrate how it takes the "human touch" to get our nation's toughest jobs accomplished.
Air Force pararescue members (known as "PJs") and combat controllers fulfill key special operations roles for the U.S. military. They are responsible for conducting high-priority personnel recovery and forward control missions with their joint partners in the Navy and Army. They also fill critical humanitarian needs in times of crisis, and were responsible for conducting hundreds of rescue operations during Hurricane Katrina. PJs were most recently involved in many life-saving events on the East Coast during Hurricane Sandy.
Each applicant must meet a special blend of physical, mental and character requirements to qualify. Battlefield Airmen must pass a rigorous screening process prior to their departure for Basic Military Training in the Air Force. First and foremost, they must meet high physical standards, well above what is expected for a normal military recruit. They complete a battery of physical tests, including a 500-meter swim, mile and a half run, pull-ups, sit-ups and push-ups. Prior to joining, each applicant must be certified by a special operations recruiting liaison from the Air Force Special Operations Command.
Senior Master Sgt. Ed Edgar, 317th Recruiting Squadron, serves as the chief recruiter in the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia region. "The NFL Combine has nothing on us. Quite frankly, we are looking for America's best--individuals in top physical condition and ready to take their skills to the next level. Our AFSOO program is specifically designed to find talent and prepare them for success in SOF."
Brawn isn't the only quality required for Air Force Battlefield Airmen positions. Many special operations applicants test at the highest mental categories for recruits, or have already completed degrees from top universities.
"We recently qualified a graduate from Virginia Tech," remarked Staff Sgt Donald Hildebrand, the Battlefield Airman monitor who executes the program at Langley AFB. He continued by stating, "The BA recruiting team is looking for the type of passion and fortitude that is characteristic of today's special operations professional. Most athletes can make it through the events if given enough time, but it is the speed and intensity of the qualifying times that makes it a challenge. In the Air Force, speed is life."
Many of the applicants do not pass the test on their first attempt. For those tenacious enough to come back, the Air Force "BA prep team" assists candidates with everything from swimming skills to running technique. Their goal is to ensure success for those applicants with the desire to meet their goal of serving their nation in the elite world of special operations.
Edgar offered a final thought: "Creating a national championship team starts with precise recruiting. That's what we are here to do--recruit special operations forces who are second to none. The United States Air Force needs individuals of strong character, with both the physical and intellectual capacity to handle our nation's toughest assignments. If you are interested, give our BA team a call, and we'll see you at the pool."
Article by Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary, 317th Recruiting Squadron