The combat rescue officer (CRO) is the person who organizes and coordinates personnel recovery operations. CROs act as advocates for Personnel Recovery teams, ensuring they are properly trained and equipped, and ready to perform their functions. In certain circumstances, they deploy alongside pararescue jumpers (PJs) and Special Tactics (ST) teams and perform command and control activities.

While the Special Tactics teams do their jobs, the CRO coordinates comms to keep “eyes in the sky” and the overall command apprised of the situations unfolding in the field. Considering they receive roughly the same training as the PJs they deploy with, combat rescue officers are uniquely suited to coordinate operations with “boots on the ground.”

U.S. Air Force combat rescue officers from the 351st Special Warfare Training Squadron train with Tactical Air Control Party members, assigned to the 7th Air Operations Squadron, on calling in close air support and nine lines at a range in New Mexico, March 14, 2019. (Photo by Senior Airman Haley Phillips/U.S. Air Force)

Combat Rescue Officer or PJ? Everything But the Blood

Combat rescue officer and pararescue jumper are two distinct career paths that have overlapping values. The first major difference between PJs and CROs is that CROs are commissioned officers in the USAF, whereas PJs are enlisted men. 

The first requirement to become a CRO is a Bachelor’s degree. The first requirement to be a PJ is either a high school diploma or a Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED). Both career fields follow similar training paths: both must complete combat dive training, static-line and free-fall parachute courses, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training. Where they diverge is the PJ requirement for emergency medical training. 

Ensuring Lives Are Saved: The Air Force Combat Rescue Officer
U.S. Air Force pararescue Airmen conduct in-flight medical training scenarios, November 6, 2018 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Senior Airman Rito Smith/USAF)

PJs perform the life-saving in the field; CROs ensure they have the training and equipment to make that happen.

Civilian Combat Rescue Officers

Civilians have the opportunity to become CROs provided they meet certain requirements. According to the official application guidelines, civilians within 12 months of graduating from an accredited college can apply to become CROs via the Special Warfare Airman Program (SWAP). There are myriad requirements to be met as a civilian, including a minimum 2.5 GPA and score minimums on the Air Force Officer Qualification Test. The full requirements can be found in the Air Force’s application package.  

Civilian applications are handled on a case-by-case basis. One requirement to be a CRO is to be an officer in the USAF. Most acquisitions come either from the Air Force Academy and ROTC candidates, directly from Officer Training School, or through inter-service transfers. Civilian candidates that meet Phase II requirements must complete Officer Training School before beginning pipeline training.

Phase I

All applicants must complete Phase I, which is the application phase. Potential candidates submit an application package containing a personal narrative explaining why they want to be a CRO, and a resume showing leadership and decision-making abilities. In addition, copies of the three most recent performance reports or evaluations, and a commander’s endorsement letter explaining how they would be an asset to the battlefield are required.