First Women Preparing to Apply for Air Force Combat Positions

Command failures and a "leadership gap" were cited repeatedly as major factors in the sexual abuse of women recruits by enlisted trainers at at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, but no officers will face judicial punishment.

The first women hoping to join the ranks of the battlefield airmen are going through a fitness program designed to ready the recruits for the demanding training that lies ahead.

All Air Force combat-related fields -- combat controllers, pararescuemen, tactical air control party members and Special Operations weather technicians -- became open to women on Jan. 16.

And though the service is not identifying the two, a spokeswoman for Headquarters, Air Force Recruiting Service, Lt. Erin Ranaweera, said one of the candidates is hoping to be the Air Force's first female pararescueman and the other its first female TACP.

Neither woman is prior service, nor has a background in firefighting or law enforcement, she said.

The Pentagon on Thursday announced that all services' plans to open previously closed combat and special ops positions to women had been approved. The announcement means the services can now begin training, recruiting and assignment to place female troops in previously closed jobs.

Ranaweera said the two Air Force women will go through the same process as any male recruit.

This means meeting the minimum ASVAB scores for the particular career field and being physically qualified for the job. The physical part means passing a Physical Ability Stamina Test even before heading to basic training.

The minimum requirements to enter the pararescue career field are 25-meter underwater swim (twice), a 500-meter surface swim under 10:07 minutes, a 1.5-mile run under 9:47 minutes, 10 pullups in two minutes,  54 sit-ups in two minutes, and 52 pushups in two minutes. 

TACP candidates have to at least run 1.5 miles under 10:47 minutes and do 6 pullups in two minutes, 48 sit-ups in two minutes and 40 pushups in two minutes.

Because they're intending to go out for PJ and TACP the women will initially go through a special physical and mental training program conducted by retired Special Operations airmen, Ranaweera said. This is a system that has been in place for years, she said, and is the same one that male candidates go through.

"This development process by the contractors can take anywhere from 30 to 150 days, depending on the progress a candidate makes," she said. "The intent is not to send a candidate to Basic Military Training who just meets the minimums, but have candidates that far exceed the minimums and understand the mental stressors that accompany these difficult training courses."

Once the contractor and the recruiting squadron agree that the women are ready for the Air Force they'll ship to basic training at the next available date and also have a slot reserved for PJ and TACP training.

During training, she said, the female candidates will be housed in separate rooms within integrated dorms.

Assuming the pararescue candidate gets through basic, she will be spend anywhere from 2 to 2.5 years in training at several bases: Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Naval Support Activity, Panama City, Florida; Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington; Fort Benning, Georgia; Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; and Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The TACP candidate can expect to spend just over five months training at Lackland, according to Ranaweera. But according to Ranaweera it is not uncommon for applicants to fail their initial PAST test.

"It's a difficult test that must be accomplished under time constraints," she said. "Many times, those applicants that fail decide to find another career field in the Air Force and not continue to pursue these particular specialties."

But they do get another chance, she said.

"Those are motivated to continue training for these jobs will receive extra instruction from the contractors and, in many cases, will be provided a workout plan concentrating on the areas that were below minimums," she said. "When the applicant believes they are ready to attempt the PAST again, they will be given a date and time for another test."

Ranaweera said there is no specific timeframe an applicant has to pass the PAST.

"The contractors will look at the improvements made from previous tests and the candidate's attitude as indications of progress," she said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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