This year has been monumental for the Air Force Special Operations community.
Early in 2019, the Air Force announced the creation of a new Special Operations job: Special Reconnaissance (SR) replaced and improved the outdated Special Operations Weather Technician (SOWT) specialty. Then, in the Spring, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) announced that its SOF specialties (Combat Control, Pararescue, Tactical Air Control Party and SR) would come together under the Special Warfare career field. (You can read more details about these changes here.)
During this wave of “modernization,” the future of Pararescue came under scrutiny. The Air Force leadership considered the merging of the two different kinds of Pararescue units to ensure a more efficient and effective force. The merger envisioned Guardian Angel Squadrons incorporated into the Special Warfare Squadrons.
Guardian Angel refers to the Rescue Squadrons that fall under the Air Force Combat Command (ACC). These are considered conventional squadrons and not Special Operations. Special Warfare Squadrons fall under AFSOC. It is important to note, however, that Pararescuemen in both ends of the spectrum go through the same selection and training and are considered SOF. Assignment to a Rescue or Special Warfare squadron depends on the needs of the Air Force and operators often get assigned to both during their careers (reassignments normally take place every 2-5 years).
The Air Force leadership, however, determined that it’s more efficient and effective if the current status is maintained. Consequently, there will be no merging between the Guardian Angel and Special Warfare components of the specialty.
The initial selection process of the Pararescue, however, has been revamped. Previously, Pararescue candidates (also known as “cones”) began the two-year Pararescue pipeline by going through Indoc, a grueling 10-week suckfest. The new Assessment and Selection (A&S) course is four weeks and includes Special Reconnaissance and Combat Controller candidates as well. An eight-week preparatory course before A&S better prepares candidates for success during selection.
With Indoc, the emphasis was on physical standards. If candidates could make the PT, swim, run times and didn’t quit, they would continue on to the rest of the pipeline. A&S, however, is less strict on the PT standards — that, of course, doesn’t mean easier. It evaluates candidates more holistically. More emphasis is now given to things like peer reviews and psychological test results. What this means is that PT studs who would breeze through Indoc might get dropped after A&S because they aren’t team players or show character traits that could lead up to ethics and professionalism violations down the line.
Pararescuemen are the only asset dedicated to personnel recovery (PR) in the entire Department of Defence (DoD). But they are far more than that. As world-class medics, among other things, they can operate alongside other SOF elements as teams or individual attachments. How they operate is often dictated by the type of squadron in which they are in. PJs assigned to Special Warfare Squadrons usually deploy as individual attachments to SEAL platoons, Special Forces Operation Detachment Alphas (ODAs), Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOTs) and, though less often, to Ranger platoons. On the other hand, PJs assigned to a Rescue Squadron are more often deployed as whole teams. (The National Geographic documentary series “Inside Combat Rescue” is a great example of how an RQS deploys and operates.)