Thursday, May 25, 2006

The "other" special ops guys

These airmen are not perfecting their golf game.

Most people hearing the term "Air Force Special Operations" will think it an oxymoron. The not entirely unjustified perception of the US Air Force is one of a bunch of nine-to-fivers whose closest contact with dirt is on the base golf course.

But today's USA Today carried a couple of articles about the Air Force's efforts to recruit special operators, namely pararescue specialists and combat controllers, that will hopefully enlighten the public.

The articles only scratch the surface of the training required of USAF pararescue "PJs" and combat controllers.

Combat controllers deploy to high threat locations to direct air strikes against enemy positions. They're qualified in all manner of parachute jumps, survival, small unit operations and other disciplines not usually associated with the Air Force. Oh, and they're also trained as air traffic controllers. Can't have all those strike aircraft bumping into each on the way to the target, you know.

PJs are responsible for the rescue of downed pilots (or anyone else, for that matter) in hostile territory. Their training is similar to that of combat controllers, but instead of learning to control air traffic, they're trained as medical specialists so that they can treat wounded pilots prior to extraction. To get someone fully trained in either of these specialties can take more than two years.

So next time you see someone in an Air Force uniform, don't assume that his idea of roughing it is a hotel without cable TV. He just might have a tougher job than you think.


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