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Understanding the Training Pipeline for Elite Military Forces

Understanding the Training Pipeline for Elite Military Forces

In the United States military's elite units, rigorous training and specialized schools form the backbone of preparation for Pararescuemen (P.J.s), Combat Controllers (CCTs), and selected Combat Weathermen. These individuals undergo a series of challenging courses known collectively as "the Pipeline," designed to equip them with the skills necessary for their high-stakes missions. This article delves into the various schools that form part of this training pipeline, shedding light on the intense preparation involved in becoming part of these distinguished groups.

U.S. Army Basic Airborne School, Fort Benning, Georgia

The journey often begins at Fort Benning, Georgia, with the U.S. Army Basic Airborne School. Here, candidates are trained in static line parachute operations, a fundamental skill for all airborne forces. This course lays the groundwork for more advanced airborne training and operations that P.J.s and CCTs might undertake.

Underwater Egress Training

Underwater egress training is another critical component, especially for P.J.s and, to some extent, CCTs. This training teaches the personnel how to safely escape from submerged aircraft, a vital skill for survival in missions involving water operations.

Military Freefall School, Yuma, Arizona

At the Military Freefall School, now located in Yuma, Arizona, candidates are trained in high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) and high-altitude, high-opening (HAHO) parachute jumps. These techniques allow stealth insertion into enemy territory, making it a critical capability for special operations.

Indoctrination Course, Lackland AFB, Texas

The Indoctrination Course at Lackland AFB, Texas, serves as a selection phase where candidates are tested physically and mentally to assess their suitability for the demanding roles of P.J.s and CCTs. This course is known for its rigor and high attrition rate.

Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST)

Before even entering the Indoctrination Course, candidates must pass the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST). This test sets the minimum physical standards required to begin the specialized training and is administered by PJ/CCT/STS teams.

Special Forces Underwater Operations Course, Key West, Florida

For those destined for roles that involve extensive underwater operations, the Special Forces Underwater Operations Course in Key West, Florida, is a critical stop. This course, also known as "Combat Diver Qualification Course" in some circles, is renowned for its difficulty and is designed to develop competent combat divers.

USAF Survival School, Fairchild AFB, Washington

Survival training is an indispensable part of the pipeline, and the USAF Survival School at Fairchild AFB in Washington provides comprehensive training in survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) techniques. These skills are essential for personnel who might find themselves behind enemy lines or in hostile environments.

Water Survival School, Florida

Lastly, previously located in Florida, the Water Survival School focuses on preparing candidates for survival in open-water scenarios. This includes training in life-saving flotation devices, signaling for rescue, and waterborne tactics essential for recovery operations.


The training pipeline for Pararescuemen, Combat Controllers, and selected Combat Weathermen is an arduous journey that spans various specialized schools and courses. Each pipeline stage is designed to instill the skills, resilience, and tactical acumen required for these elite forces to execute their missions successfully. Through this rigorous preparation, the U.S. military ensures that its special operations units are among the best-prepared and most capable in the world.

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