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Air Force Rethinks Special Operations Recruiting

Carson Frame / TPR News
Members of the 330th recruiting squadron speak with experts in explosive ordnance disposal, one of the six special operations career fields.

The Air Force activated its first special operations recruiting unit Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The 330th recruiting squadron will target hard-to-fill positions with high attrition rates.

Air Force Special Operations has adopted a new recruitment model. Promising recruits will receive mentorship from former special operations personnel upon entering the service. After they complete basic training, they’ll take also part in an eight-week prep school before entering the special operations pipeline.

Senior Master Sgt. Damian VanDevender of the 330th recruiting squadron said the extra preparation will build recruits’ physical and mental stamina, easing the transition into special operations training.

“In prep, there’s no trying to wash them out. There’s no trying to get them to quit. They’re exposing them to the difficult workouts they’re going to be doing,” he said. “They’re exposing them to water confidence training — things that most recruits typically don’t have experience in.”

Under the previous model, recruits would go directly from basic training into special operations courses, a progression VanDevender said was problematic.

“They would lose a significant portion of these people within the first couple of weeks of training,” he said.

Common reasons for attrition included injury and inability to pass the initial physical fitness requirement.

“The biggest factor after that was just quitting,” VanDevender added. “A lot of people weren’t mentally prepared or resilient enough to handle the rigors and the stress.”

The 330th recruiting squadron will only recruit candidates for six combat support career fields, including pararescue, combat control, special operations weather , tactical air control party, as well as survival, evasion, resistance and escape instructors, and explosive ordnance disposal technicians.

The 330th recruiting squadron is comprised of 96 recruiters, 12 flight chiefs, and 12 assistant flight chiefs in locations across the country. Its recruitment target is around 1,700 this year, according to VanDevender.

Tech Sgt. Brian Ayers, a pararescue instructor, said he expects positive outcomes from the Air Force’s new special operations recruitment model.

“I think, with this new initiative, we’re going to be able to target a specific group of individuals who have that background of being on a team, of being athletic, and understanding that hard work is worth it in the end,” he said.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame

Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.