Many people have no idea what it takes to become a pararescueman in the United States Air Force. For that matter, many people don’t know what a pararescueman a.k.a. “PJ” does, nor that they are a part of the Special Operations community just like Navy SEALs. PJs know that SEALs are in the limelight when it comes to Hollywood and International news, the PJs don’t mind being the silent heroes or “quiet professionals” as they like to call it.
As a training evaluator for Battlefield Airman group at Medina Annex, I was able to really get some insight on what it takes to be a PJ. One of my many roles in this awesome job is to talk to the students who don’t make it to determine the root cause of why they self-eliminated, and talk to the graduates to see which tools they used to push through, and why they felt they were successful at completing the course of initial entry, PJ Indoctrination. But first thing is first, what does a PJ learn and do?
A PJ is super-athlete who is trained to jump out of aircraft, SCUBA dive, survive in rough seas and on dangerous land, shoot with a ridiculous level of accuracy and perform life saving techniques while being shot at or flying through the air in a helicopter.
PJ training starts at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, where the majority of them go through Basic Training, followed by an eight week Battlefield Airmen preparatory course. Once they complete “BA Prep”, they shift to the dorms on Medina, an annex of Lackland and start a nine week training program called PJ Indoc. This course is designed to test the limits of the trainees. It separates the men from the boys and weeds out the weak ones who weren’t meant to be a part of the SpecOps community. During indoctrination, the trainees will be pushed to their limits on the ground by running up to 5 miles at a time at 7.5 minute pace, rucking several miles with 45 pounds worth of gear, and carrying their assigned training aid (a telephone pole) with them to and from chow and back and forth from the dorms. They will go far beyond what they thought was possible in the water with exercises such as buddy breathing, finning, treading water, ten-ups, buddy brick and even crossing the Boerne lake. If they complete Indoc, which only about 20% will, they will then move on to two different dive schools, open and closed circuit, both of which are in Panama City, Florida. Then they will PCS (move permanently) to Kirtland AFB in New Mexico and go through a 7 week basic EMT course followed by a 28 week EMT course with a hospital rotation. Most paramedics go through 18 months of training, while PJs only get 6 months to absorb the same amount of information. There is some attrition in the EMT courses, but once they get passed the EMT courses, they tend to rarely lose people. Afterwards, the fun starts again. They go through Combat Survival training, three different jump schools, Underwater Egress Training (escaping sinking aircraft and such), and then they finish it all off with a 24 week apprentice course where they tie everything that they learned together. So you may ask yourself, what kind of person does it take to successfully become a real live super hero?
Several studies have been done to determine which characteristics are more beneficial for the Spec Ops career field. Most commonly, those with a Type A personality tend to want to “be the best”. But that doesn’t guarantee success. According to a recently graduated class from the indoctrination course, it takes more than just physical strength and mental resillience to make it through the course. Their advice is:
– Maturity is a major factor- Very few 18 year-old, fresh out of high school graduates complete the indoctrination course.
– Train beyond what you thought was possible- Don’t train for just the entry test or even graduation standards, train for more than you can imagine that you can do. One student was told to run a mile carrying a cinder block. “It sounded impossible, but that is the mentality that you need to get through.”
– Expect to want to quit- You have to go in knowing the you will have the urge to quit several times, you need to want it bad enough to get you passed actually quitting.
– It is 50% physical ability and 50% mental resilience- Be strong mentally, and your body will endure.
Some additional characteristics that have been noted over the years include leadership skills, willingness to make sacrifices for the team, and putting the team before self.
So if this is a career field that interests of fascinates you, buckle up, it is a long, hard ride. The training lasts about two years, and the first 2 months includes carrying a 65 pound ruck and being part of a 20 man team that carries a telephone pole everywhere they go, equally distributed, that adds about an additional 100 pounds per person.
Article published by Sara Winder, April 2018