The role of the Air Force Combat Controller (CCT) is not the easiest to define. They are not pararescuemen (PJs) but can perform some of the same functions. They are not Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), but they perform some of those functions as well. The simplest way to put it would be that Air Force Combat Controllers control the skies before, during, and after battle.

Combat Controllers go behind the lines to establish airfields and assault zones. They operate as air traffic controllers (and are FAA certified) and command and control for the aircraft portion of a special operation. Their training is done alongside Air Force special operators and special operations forces from the other three branches. CCTs receive 83 weeks of training in order to earn the scarlet beret.

Combat Controller Training

Prep Course

CCT training starts the same way every Airman’s training begins with basic military training (BMT) at Joint Base Lackland. After eight weeks in BMT, they march across the street to begin the eight-week Special Warfare Preparatory course. This prep course is physically intensive. It focuses on fitness, nutrition, and water confidence. At the end of the eight weeks, the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST) is administered. This PT test determines whether the trainee has physically what it takes to be an operator. Fail this, and your time in special operations is over. Pass it and you march across the street to Assessment and Selection.

Air Force Combat Controller Assessment and Selection

Assessment and Selection (A&S) lasts four weeks and introduces trainees to the realities of what they volunteered to do. The first 2.5 weeks are spent “in the field.” Trainees live in tents and sleep on cots. Almost all this training is done outside. It focuses on fitness through swimming, running, rucking, and calisthenics. 

The final week and a half are spent in academia. Tests are taken, evaluations are given, and the instructor cadre rates individual candidates on their suitability to move forward in training. There is no final PT test to complete A&S. The cadre are looking for candidates that will make good operators and fitness is only one aspect. Fitness can be taught; the mindset to actually be an operator has to already be there.

Pass A&S and you literally get thrown in the deep end.

Pre-Dive Course

The candidates who have made it this far march across the street again to the Chaparral pool at JB Lackland. That pool, and the track next door, will be candidates’ homes for the next four weeks. Room and board and training are all housed in the same complex. Rehabilitation facilities and staff are available to ensure candidates are, and remain, healthy. As long as they stay that way, it’s time to swim to Florida.

Special Warfare Combat Dive Course

Special Tactics Training Squadron students swim
Special Tactics Training Squadron students swim the length of the pool with their hands and feet bound during a pre-scuba class at Hurlburt Field, Florida, June 29, 2016. (Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy/USAF)

At the Naval Support Activity Panama City, Air Force Combat Controller candidates complete eight weeks of training to become combat dive certified. The course is broken into two phases. Candidates spend the first five weeks learning SCUBA fundamentals, basic diving techniques, and rescue diving. The last three weeks focus on using closed-circuit underwater breathing apparatuses known as rebreathers. This phase is where the student learns combat diving