A female Airman has passed Air Force special warfare selection and is now beginning the arduous process of training to become a combat controller. There are currently three other women who are working through the Air Force’s 76-week special operations training pipeline, with one officer potentially positioned to make history as the branch’s first-ever female ground special operator in the near future.
The Air Force special operations career fields are known for their very long—some would say too long—pipelines. The four career fields (Pararescue, Combat Control, Special Reconnaissance, and Tactical Air Control Party) have one of the toughest selection processes in the entire special operations community, with high levels of technical expertise on top of the physical demands.
Right now, the Combat Controller pipeline lasts 76 weeks and has 10 separate steps that go as follows:
- Special Warfare Preparatory Course (8 weeks)
- Special Warfare Assessment & Selection (4 weeks)
- Special Warfare Pre-Dive Course (4 weeks)
- Special Warfare Combat Dive School (5 weeks)
- Air Force Survival School (3 weeks)
- Airborne School (3 weeks)
- Military Freefall School (4 weeks)
- Air Traffic Control School (11 weeks)
- Combat Control Apprentice Course (8 weeks)
- Special Tactics Training (26 weeks)
According to the Air Force Times, there are four female Airmen currently at various stages of the pipeline.
Sandboxx News understands that last summer, a female officer and Air Force Academy graduate finished the Combat Diver portion of the pipeline, which is arguably one of the toughest parts of the whole selection and training process and is now nearing the end of the tunnel. If she graduates, she will become the first-ever female ground special operator in the Air Force’s history.
Interestingly, the female special tactics officer candidate went through the Army’s Special Operations Underwater Operations School (SFUWO) instead of the Air Force’s dive school. Sandboxx News understands that approximately 15-20 Air Force personnel go through the Army’s combat diver school every year despite the Air Force Special Operations Command having its own course.
“Any airman or recruit aspiring to enter special warfare career fields, regardless of gender, will be accessed and qualified using the current validated standards,” Marilyn Holliday, a spokesperson for the Air Education and Training Command, told the Air Force Times.
Combat Controllers specialize in air traffic control, joint terminal attack control, and airfield and landing zones surveys, among other mission sets.
According to the Air Force, combat controllers “deploy, undetected, into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance in the joint arena.”
However, they are most often attached to other special operations units. For example, the Delta Force squadron that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, had at least one combat controller from the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron attached to them.
The 24th Special Tactics Squadron is the Tier 1 unit of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and often sends operators as attachments to its Army (Delta Force) and Navy (SEAL Team 6) counterparts.