AIR FORCE Assessment & Selection

If you want to be a PJ combat controller or special reconnaissance airman, you’ll need to make it through four grueling weeks at Air Force assessment and selection. Recent times have seen an evolution in the Air Force Special Warfare Division. They’ve made significant investments in state of the art facilities, research and development, and a complete overhaul of the training pipeline. All of these changes, though, have brought Air Force special warfare a lot of new attention. As a coach training civilian in active and reserved personnel for soft careers, I’ve seen firsthand how many guys are now open or even shifting their original plans to now pursue careers in the air Force.

But with all of this new attention, it has left four damaging myths that if you are thinking of pursuing this path, you need to know about. Perhaps one of the most damaging myths about Air Force ANS is the idea. It’s the easy route simply because it’s the air Force. Here is where this misconception comes from and why it’s wrong. At first glance, the entry standards for an Air Force special warfare contract are not competitive.

You need to run a one five mile run in 10 minutes and 20 seconds, a 500 meters swim in 15 minutes, complete 40 pushups, eight pullups, 50 situps, and complete 225 meters underwater swims. But these are just to get your foot in the door. The data consistently shows a very high attrition rate at ANS. While the four week course might seem short, fewer than 20% of candidates are actually completing it and getting selected. Comparing the fitness levels of candidates from air Force ANs with those emerging from the Navy’s buds or army’s sfas, it becomes clear that air force candidates are just as fit, if not fitter.

We actually have data from the Rand corporation of recruits in the air force ANS classes, the top 25% of those signing a pararescue contract. This was before the AFSW contracting system recently changed. Clocked a nine minute one five mile run and an impressive 811 500 meters swim. But even with those great times, that candidate in the top 25% of his class would only have a 15% chance of getting selected. For those really pushing their limits and landing in the top 5%, running a very fast one five mile run in 8 minutes and 31 seconds and a 712 500 meters swim, the ods are still less than 50%.

You have just a 38% chance of getting selected. What many candidates are now seeing is that the air Force is pumping money into state of the art facilities, new technology, and coaching in their prep course. But they are not doing this for a relaxed training environment. The numbers prove this, and anybody who goes in with the expectation that they will coast through is thoroughly misguided. A second myth surrounding Air Force special warfare is the perception of its size, with many believing it’s as vast or big as the army.

Let’s break this down. When you examine the numbers, it becomes clear that the Air Force special warfare community is substantially smaller than its army and navy counterparts. The Navy’s NSW boasts approximately 2450 active duty seals. And the army, on the other hand, dwarfs this with well over 10,000 soft personnel dispersed across various groups and specialized units. In smaller communities like Air Force special warfare, every action and decision you make is magnified.

Your behavior, performance and reputation will have lasting implications. In such a close settings, you’re not just another face in the crowd. Remember, your reputation will follow you everywhere. And it starts from day one. Myth number three ties back to the additional funding that the Air Force has with its new Air Force special warfare prep course.

There’s a prevalent myth that’s been circulating that this course alone is the golden ticket, equipping candidates with every tool and skill set they need to excel. I’ve heard this firsthand from athletes that I’m coaching, and they’re hearing it from their recruiters. At first glance, this course is comprehensive. You’ll be split into groups based on fitness benchmarks with a regimented training schedule, and be taught by elite performance coaches on every aspect of fitness, from running, walking, mobility, weightlifting, water confidence, swimming and more. But here’s the misconception.

While the prep course is undeniably valuable and designed to improve your physical capabilities as a recruit, it is not a miracle worker if you’re starting at the bare minimum requirements, barely passing the initial fitness test and expecting to leave to top tier competitive scores based solely on those eight weeks. That’s just unrealistic. As a coach, I am recommending that my athletes view the prep course like icing on the cake. We already know that you’re going to detrain during basic training, so I make sure that you’re well exceeding the standards before that. By the time the prep course rolls around, some of your fitness will have atrophied.

But we expected that you can use your eight weeks at the prep course to sharpen and refine your skills. You should not be counting on the prep course to get you fitter. And plus, keep in mind that even with this prep course, the attrition rate is around 80% and almost everybody gets to go to it. The final myth is that the instructors are just waiting for candidates to make a mistake, hungry for any opportunity to wash you out. But let’s actually look at this myth seriously.

The Air Force has made significant financial and resource investments in the training and preparation of you, their candidates. The introduction of the special warfare prep course is a testament to this commitment. Why would they want to spend all that time, energy and money only to then look for reasons for candidates to fail? If they wanted you to fail, they wouldn’t be spending tens of thousands of dollars for every candidate to go through the prep course. Second, the Air Force, in collaboration with Iran Corporation, has conducted multiple studies on how to optimize their training and selection process.

The objective they have is very clear. They want to develop a more efficient and effective training protocol to maximize their candidates’potential and best identify which candidates will be successful. This indicates a desire to fine tune the process to ensure the right candidates succeed, rather than looking for reasons to fail them. The final reason is that the Air force in particular has had major challenges in recruiting and retaining their talent. Given the rigor and demand of these special operations careers, the pool of suitable candidates is very small and the public knowledge of the Air Force special warfare community in particular is also very low.

This has led to additional investments, per the recommendations of rand, to increase awareness of Air Force special warfare. So those are the four training myths surrounding Air Force special warfare and Air Force assessment and selection. Since it is a very small community and they’ve been putting so much new investment into their pipeline, it is changing very quickly from month to month and year to year. Leave your training questions in the comments. Thank you for watching.

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