The Air Force has debated the future of its battlefield airmen for some time. SOWTs were seen as unnecessary with the advent of weather forecasting technology. Earlier in 2018, the service released a memorandum describing the current challenges and explored possible improvement opportunities to become more effective. “Bottom line, a fully leveraged Air Force ground maneuver element eliminates the need to ask another service to do what the Air Force should do ourselves,” the memo states. This conclusion indicates a desire for more independence. The document was signed by the Air Force’s Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Stephen Wilson.
As of now, the battlefield airmen designation includes:
- Pararescuemen (PJ)
- Combat Controllers (CCT)
- Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), which are considered Special Operations
The Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion and Explosive Ordinance Disposal career fields also fall under the battlefield airmen designation but are considered combat support and not SOF.
The SR pipeline is very similar to PJ and CCT. Candidates for all three career fields attend the same selection and assessment program at Lackland Air Force Base. Thereafter, they progress through a succession of schools:
- Pre-Dive and Dive
- Military Free Fall
- Combat Control
- Advanced Skills Training
From the available information, it appears the main mission set of the SR field is to provide environmental reconnaissance capabilities to commanders. SR operators would also specialize in ground Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance missions. Additionally, they’re still capable of combat weather forecasting operations.
Career field changes are expected to begin in April. The financial incentive for applicants is strong, with a $10,000 signing bonus.
The AFSOC even established the 330th Recruiting Squadron to attract more applicants and ensure they’re suitably prepared for the rigorous selection programs. Master Sgt. Michael Williams, who’s a flight chief with the 330th Squadron, said “we’re just trying to be realistic with them from the very beginning. Our candidates, whenever we bring them into our program…we can usually have them ready, passing the physical fitness standards, depending on their mental capacity…and resiliency, in about three-to-four months.”
Environmental reconnaissance operations aren’t unheard of. During Operation Anaconda, joint teams from the Joint Special Operations Command conducted multiple environmental recons around the Shahi-Kot valley. Their goal was to determine the position of the massed al-Qaida fighters, to establish the best avenues of approach for the conventional forces airlifted into the valley, and to locate and mark possible avenues of retreat that could be used by the Jihadists. If it weren’t for these teams and their recons, Operation Anaconda would have most probably been an utter disaster.