United States Air Force Pararescue are United States Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Combat Command operatives tasked with recovery and medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat environments. They are the only members of the DoD specifically organised, trained and equipped to conduct personnel recovery operations in hostile or denied areas as a primary mission.
United States Air Force Pararescue are also used to support NASA missions and have been used to recover astronauts after water landings. Of the 22 enlisted Air Force Cross recipients, 12 have been awarded to Pararescuemen. They wear the maroon beret as a symbol of their elite status. Part of the little-known Air Force Special Tactics community and long an enlisted preserve, the Pararescue service began commissioning Combat Rescue Officers early in the 21st century.
Pararescue training and structure
The process of becoming a “PJ” is known informally as “the Pipeline” or “Superman School.” Successfully completing it takes about two years of intense physical and mental effort. Many of whom begin the process, only the most determined will graduate. Sometimes this can be as few as four to six from a class of nearly 100. From start to finish the drop out rate is 60 to 90 percent from each class, making it the highest training drop-out rate in the entire U.S. military Special Operations community.
Pararescue trainees need only attend two courses, the Indoctrination course and the Pararescue apprentice course. In between the two courses trainees can attend required schools in any order. Trainees may attend other branches schools such as the United States Marine Corps Combatant Diver Course for diving instruction or the Navy tactical air operations school for parachute and free fall training if other courses are full.
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Once a Pararescueman has completed the pipeline, they are assigned to a Rescue or Special Tactics team where they will receive informal On-the-Job training. Additionally if a pararescueman is assigned to a special tactics team they will receive additional training along with Air Force Combat Controllers in what is known as Advanced Skills Training.
- Pararescue/Combat Rescue Officer Indoctrination Course, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas (9 weeks)
The mission of the Indoctrination Course is to recruit, select and train future PJs and CROs. At this school, participants undergo extensive physical conditioning with swimming, running, weight training and calisthenics. This course helps prepare students for the rigors of training and the demands of these lifestyles. Other training includes obstacle courses, rucksack marches, diving physics, dive tables, metric manipulations, medical terminology, dive terminology, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, weapons qualifications, history of PJs, and leadership reaction course. Graduation of this course is the “ticket to ride the pipeline” and begin learning the special skills that make PJs highly regarded special operators.
- Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, Georgia (3 weeks)
Students learn the basic parachuting skills required to infiltrate an objective area by static line airdrop. This course includes ground operations week, tower week, and “jump week” when participants make five parachute jumps. Personnel who complete this training are awarded the basic parachutist rating and are allowed to wear the Parachutist Badge.
- Air Force Combat Diver School, Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center, Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida (5.5 weeks)
The course is divided into four blocks of instruction: (1) Diving Theory, (2) Infiltration/Exfiltration Methods, (3) Open Circuit Diving Operations, and (4) Closed Circuit Diving Operations. The primary focus of AFCDC is to develop Pararescuemen/Combat Rescue Officers and Combat Controller/Special Tactics Officers into competent, capable and safe combat divers/swimmers. The course provides commanders with divers/swimmers capable of undertaking personnel recovery and special operations waterborne missions. AFCDC provides diver training through classroom instruction, extensive physical training, surface and sub-surface water confidence pool exercises, pool familiarization dives, day/night tactical open water surface/sub-surface infiltration swims, open/closed circuit diving procedures and underwater search and recovery procedures. The session culminates with a waterborne field training exercise.
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- Navy Underwater Egress Training, Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida (1 day)
This course teaches how to safely escape from an aircraft that has landed in the water. Instruction includes principles, procedures and techniques necessary to escape a sinking aircraft.
- Air Force Basic Survival School, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington (2.5 weeks)
This course teaches basic survival techniques for remote areas using minimal equipment. This includes instruction of principles, procedures, equipment and techniques that help individuals to survive, regardless of climatic conditions or unfriendly environments, and return home.
- Army Military Free Fall Parachutist School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona (5 weeks)
This course instructs free fall parachuting (HALO) using a high performance parafoil. The course provides wind tunnel training, in-air instruction focusing on student stability, aerial maneuvers, air sense and parachute opening procedures. Each student receives a minimum of 30 free fall jumps including two day and two night jumps with supplemental oxygen, rucksack and load-bearing equipment.
- Pararescue EMT-Paramedic Training, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico (22 weeks)
This course teaches how to manage trauma patients prior to evacuation and provide emergency medical treatment. Phase I is four weeks of emergency medical technician basic (EMT-B) training. Phase II lasts 20 weeks and provides instruction in minor field surgery, pharmacology, combat traumamanagement, advanced airway management and military evacuation procedures. Graduates of the course are awarded National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians-Paramedic (NREMT-P) certification.
- Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico (24 weeks)
Qualifies airmen as pararescue recovery specialists for assignment to any Pararescue unit worldwide. Training includes field medical care and tactics,mountaineering, combat tactics, advanced parachuting and helicopter insertion/extraction qualifications. At the completion of this course, each graduate is awarded the maroon beret.
Pararescue Orientation Course
Since the 1950s, Air Force Pararescueman have provided training and mentorship for Civil Air Patrol cadets. This was formalized in 1977 with the introduction of Pararescue Orientation Course (PJOC) at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. PJOC was later taught at Fort Knox, Kentucky and George Washington National Forest, Virginia. The course teaches CAP cadets fundamental survival and rescue skills such as shelter building, land navigation, and rock climbing. Advanced Pararescue Orientation Course (APJOC) began in the 1980s and was taught only at Kirtland AFB. In 2003, both programs were cancelled. PJOC returned in 2004, but APJOC did not see its return until 2008 when the course was moved to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. APJOC builds upon the skills learned at PJOC and exposes cadets to life in an operational Pararescue or Special Tactics Squadron. It concludes with a Combat Rescue Training Exercise. During APJOC, Cadets are administered the Pararescue Physical Ability and Stamina Test. For those who pass and meet all other enlistment requirements, they may be enlisted directly into Pararescue under the United States Air Force Guaranteed Training Enlistment Program. Both PJOC and APJOC are Civil Air Patrol National Cadet Special Activities provided by United States Air Force Pararescue.