How to Get Ready for Air Force Special Warfare and Pararescue

The slow pace of change in the military is often compared to the long process of turning around an aircraft carrier. However, the Air Force has been making rapid changes to the way special operators are recruited, prepared, assessed and trained.

The evolving Air Force Special Warfare (AFSW) program has taken best practices from other Special Operation Command units and developed its own ground-breaking systems to make a better special operator.

Here is a question from a young man who has noticed the changes over the past four years as he looks to join as a Pararescueman.


About four years ago, I considered joining the Air Force Pararescue program out of high school. However, I decided to go to college before joining the Air Force. Now I am ready physically, but I have discovered things have changed based on what the recruiter is telling me today.

My questions are:

What does my journey look like now as I take the Special Warfare Open Enlistment program as a recruit? How do I earn a position into PJ training and has that training pipeline changed as well? Thanks for your advice over the years – Phillip

Thanks for your note and good job for waiting to join until you are actually ready. Things have changed in the Battlefield Airmen designation, the Open Enlistment recruiting process and the preparatory phases added into the Air Force Special Warfare pipeline.

The good news is that the Air Force Special Warfare community is looking for older and more mature candidates to fill their very demanding Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSE). The training pipeline has changed since you originally looked into the process of joining an Air Force Pararescue. If you want to become a Pararescueman (PJ), you still can by performing well on pre-Basic PAST tests and during the AFSW Prep Course and the AFSW Assessment and Selection.

When you fill out your “dream sheet,” you will get to put into writing that you prefer to continue training in the PJ pipeline and you will find out if you made it after Assessment and Selection.

I spoke with MSgt. Blout.(CCT), Special Warfare Preparatory Course Superintendent in Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, about the recent changes. From the AFSW Training Wing:

“The Air Force’s Special Warfare Training Wing has refined its training program for Airmen attempting to enter the Tactical Air Control Party, Special Tactics /Guardian Angel (STGA) weapons systems, in an effort to create more well-rounded future operators. Guardian Angel is comprised of Combat Rescue Officers, Pararescuemen, Special Reconnaissance (SR) and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Specialists and uniquely trained support personnel dedicated to the Air Force core function of Personnel Recovery.”

My recommendation is to assess yourself and see how you do on the Air Force PAST Test. When you are crushing that test, go to your local Air Force Special Ops Recruiter. Blout also said, “Recruits will be tested and evaluated prior to Basic Military Training (BMT) by operators/mentors and have to qualify to be part of the AFSW Open Enlistment Program.”

Doing well on the PAST Test is the first way to get your foot into the door. Consider these official PAST events as a job interview as it will pay off for you to perform from day one. Blout continued, “When you ship to BMT, you will be joined by other Air Force Special Warfare Open Enlistment recruits in your Air Wing and receive specialized workouts to help you maintain your fitness level for the upcoming challenges at the Air Force Prep Course. You will have to ace the PAST Test again as well as take three Air Force Operator Fitness Tests while at the Prep Course. Then, your goal of becoming a PJ, depends on your performance at Selection and Assessment, board interview, peer rankings, instructor recommendations, and your dream sheet preferences.”

Blout confirmed the training pipeline as well. Here is the pipeline from Basic Military Training to serving as a Pararescueman. The first half of the pipeline is the same for the other AFSE’s in the AFSW Open Enlistment until it is time to learn the specifics of the job in the Air Force:

Assessment Phase: Begins with your recruiter and PAST Tests prior to shipping to BMT.

Basic Military Training: 8 weeks Lackland AFB

Air Force Special Warfare Prep Course: 8 weeks Lackland AFB

Special Warfare Assessment and Selection Course: 4 weeks Lackland AFB

Special Warfare Pre-Dive Course: 4 weeks Lackland AFB

Special Warfare Combat Dive School: 5 weeks Panama City, FL

Army Airborne School: 5 weeks Fort Benning, GA

Military Freefall Course: 5 weeks Yuma, AZ

SERE Training: 3 weeks Fairchild AFB

Pararescue EMT-B Course: 7 weeks Kirtland AFB

Pararescue EMT-P Course: 30 weeks Kirtland AFB

Pararescue Apprentice Course: 22 weeks Kirtland AFB

The Fitness Tests You Need to Be Well Prepared For On This Journey

From start to finish this pipeline will take you 18-20 months, barring any delays in school dates or injuries.

There will be many objective grading points throughout Prep and A & S, but these are the two tests you should be able to crush on a bad day.

AF SW Physical Abilities / Stamina Test (PAST) AF SW Operator Fitness Test
Pull-ups 2 min

Sit-ups 2 min

Push-ups 2 min

1.5-mile run

2 x 25 meter underwater swims

500-meter swim

3-mile ruck

Standing Long Jump

5-10-5 Pro Agility Test

Trap Bar Deadlift 3 Rep Max Weight

Pull-ups max reps

100-yard Farmer Carry Sprint ( 2 x 53 pound kettlebells)

300-year Shuttle Run (12 x 25-yard shuttle)

1500-meter Swim with fins (Side, CSS, LATA side stroke)

See PAST minimum standards and recommended scores to be competitive

Your specific preparation matters when training for any special operations profession. You cannot only rely on your athletic history to get to and through selection and the training pipelines like Air Force Special Warfare.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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