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Special tactics recruiting takes flight

by Lt. Col. Sean McKenna
Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs

4/10/2008 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN)  -- The Air Force's ongoing need to fill critically manned special tactics positions -- particularly combat controllers and pararescuemen -- has brought about a unique initiative between officials from Air Force Recruiting Service and Air Force Special Operations Command.

A recent agreement between AFRS and the 720th Special Tactics Group at Hurlburt Field, Fla., calls for three Air Force special tactics Airmen to be attached to AFRS recruiting units around the country to facilitate more exposure for special operations and improve recruitment of qualified men into the special tactics training pipeline.

"Because the Air Force is heavily involved in military operations all around the world, there is a great need for special operators," said Brig. Gen. Suzanne M. "Zan" Vautrinot, the AFRS commander. "Therefore, we have to make sure Americans are aware of the important role they play in our national defense and the opportunities available in these rewarding career fields. These are not jobs people get to see every day."

Air Force combat controllers and pararescue jumpers work alongside Army special forces and Navy SEALs to secure landing and drop zones in hostile territory, then serve as certified air traffic controllers to facilitate further air, personnel and cargo drops. Pararescuemen perform combat search and rescue missions and are emergency trauma specialists on the battlefield.

The importance of combat controllers and pararescuemen in America's many overseas combat and humanitarian operations drove the need for General Vautrinot and Col. Marc Stratton, the 720th STG commander, to establish a more effective way to teach Americans about the diverse missions of enlisted special operations last year.

"I am proud to serve as the interface between Air Force special tactics and the American public," said Master Sgt. Eric Baugh, a pararescueman assigned to the 369th Recruiting Group at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. "It's my job to ensure those interested in joining our elite special operations forces know exactly what it takes to become qualified and what they'll experience once on active duty."

The special tactics advisers in each recruiting group assist in educating recruiters on the nuances of identifying potential special operators and scheduling special operations people and assets for Air Force recruiting venues.

Qualifying for pararescue or combat control is difficult, as all applicants must first score a minimum of 43 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. Then they must receiving passing scores on all elements of the Physical Ability Stamina Test. The PAST consists of a 20-meter underwater swim, a 500-meter surface swim, a 1.5-mile run, pull-ups, sit-up, push-ups and flutter kicks.

Enlistment standards remain high for all recruits entering the Air Force, but few are as stringent as for those looking to become pararescuemen or combat controllers. Only about 800 enlisted men wear Air Force special tactics' berets.

"Because of the intense training and the mental and physical stresses placed on the individuals going through the (pararescueman) and combat control pipeline. We need to be absolutely sure we're getting the best and brightest men America has to offer," Sergeant Baugh said. "The road is long and hard, but the reward is unbelievably fulfilling."

AFRS officials said plans are in the works to increase the total number of special tactics members attached to recruiting units around the country from three to 12.

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