U.S. Military Special Operations Forces

Part II

Pararescue men attached to the 410th Air Expeditionary Wing jump out of a C-130 for a static jump from 800 feet at an undisclosed location in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Official USAF Photo
Continued from Part I

Air Force Pararescue

"These things we do, that others may live." That's the official motto of Air Force Pararescue. If you have an aircrew member down in enemy territory, wounded or not, you can't get anyone better to pull him/her out of there than Air Force Pararescue.

The history of Pararescue began in August of 1943, when 21 persons bailed out of a disabled C-46 over an uncharted jungle near the China-Burma border.

So remote was the crash site that the only means of getting help to the survivors was by paradrop. Lieutenant Colonel Don Fleckinger and two medical corpsmen volunteered for the assignment. This paradrop of medical corpsmen was the seed from which the concept of Pararescue was born. For a month these men, aided by natives, cared for the injured until the party was brought to safety. News commentator Eric Severeid was one of the men to survive this ordeal. He later wrote of the men who risked their lives to save his: "Gallant is a precious word; they deserve it".

From this event the need for a highly trained rescue force was found; thus, Pararescueman was brought into being. Rescues since then have occurred in virtually every corner of the world. Since that first rescue, many airmen,soldiers, soldiers,, and civilians have had first hand experience that when trouble strikes, Pararescuemen are ready to come to their aid.

Pararescue receive intensive training (the entire program lasts almost a year). There are eight separate schools that trainees attend. All trainees receive training to become fully-qualified emergency medicine technicians. They receive additional training in pararescue mountain/high angel rescue, advanced land navigation, small arms weapons handling, escape and evasion, small team tactics, survival procedures/techniques, pyrotechnics, Rapid Extrication Delivery System (REDS), chemical warfare survival, pararescue dirt medicine, advanced trauma life support with live tissue lab, tactical/rescue day/night land/water static line/free fall parachute insertions with/without equipment loads, Rigging Alternate Method-Zodiac (RAMZ), SCUBA, and alternate insertion/extraction AIE) from rotary wing aircraft.

Just to apply for Pararescue, applicants must pass a Physical Fitness Screening Test, known as the Pararescue Physical Ability & Stamina Test (PAST).

In addition to combat rescue, Pararescue often provides worldwide search, rescue and recovery assistance associated with aircraft accidents, disaster relief, humanitarian evacuation and contingency landing site support for NASA missions.

A Pararescueman can be recognized by his maroon beret.

Air Force Pararescue can be found stationed at Hurlburt Field, FL, Nellis AFB, NV, Kirtland AFB, NM, Lackland AFB, TX, Pope AFB, NC, Moody AFB, GA, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Keflavik Air Station, Iceland, and RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom. Additionally, there are National Guard Rescue Squadrons (with Pararescue assigned) located in several states.

Air Force Combat Controllers

Air Force Combat Controllers are air traffic controllers who don't work in a control tower. Instead, they train to insert (by air, ground, or sea) behind enemy lines, without being detected, establish an air traffic control system for our strike aircraft, then sneak out again without the enemy ever knowing they were there. Of course, if they are discovered, they have the training and means to fight there way out.

Combat Controllers are "First There" to provide air traffic control anywhere, anytime, under any conditions.

Combat Controllers go through much of the same training program as Air Force Pararescue. The primary difference is where Pararescue training concentrates on medical skills, Combat Controller training takes a different route, providing extensive training in communications and aircraft air traffic control. Like Pararescue, there are eight separate training courses that Combat Controllers attend. To volunteer for Combat Controller, applicants must pass the Air Force Combat Controller PAST.

Air Force Combat Controllers can be recognized by their distinctive scarlet berets.

Combat Controllers are stationed at Pope AFB, NC, Hurlburt Field, FL, McChord AFB, WA, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, and Lackland AFB, TX. There is an Air National Guard Combat Controller Squadron in Kentucky.

Marine Corps Force Recon

Marine Corps Force Recon's mission is to conduct pre-assault and distant post-assault reconnaissance in support of a landing force. Until relatively recently, Marine Recon was not officially considered to be a "Special Operations" Force. In the past, the Marine Corps has been reluctant to have any of their units designated as "elite." To the Marine Corps, all Marines are "elite," and Marine Corps senior leaders made the decision not to have any specific unit designated as "more elite."

However, this plan kind of backfired. More and more of the Special Operations missions were going to the other services, because they had designated "Special Operations," who were all a part of the overall Special Operations Command. This was not a good thing, the brass decided, and Marine Force Recon officially joined the Special Operations Community.

Primarily, Marine Corps Recon has provided ground reconnaissance support for Marine Corps missions, however, with their entry into the overall Special Operations community, this has started to change. Force Recon is now used to provide recon capabilities for joint military service operations, as well, including reconnaissance about routes, obstacles, terrains, and enemy capability. They have the ability to provide real-time information by observing and reporting, using satellite communications.

Marine Recon dates back to World War II. Prior to 1944, Marine Recon units had the primary mission of scout/sniper. In April of 1944, the Marines formed a Battalion consisting of two companies of amphibious reconnaissance. These companies began working with Navy UDTs (Underwater Demolition Teams) to conduct beach reconnaissance and hydrographic survey.

Marine Recon, along with UDT reconned for the landings at Iwo Jima in 1945.

When the marines landed in Vietnam in 1965, the MR were there to support their respective Units. In Vietnam the MR conducted deep and distant reconnaissance patrols. They mostly operated in seven-man teams performing the so called 'Stingray' operations. The last marines left Vietnam in 971. Marine Force Recon was dramatically downsized, following Vietnam.

In order to compensate for the reduction, the Marines put Recon through some changes: 23-man Reconnaissance Platoons were created. In 1977, snipers were again a part of the marine units.

"Recon" is the primary special operations forces for the Marine Corps. You can enlist in Marine RECON as a "guaranteed job." The way the Marines work this is if you sign a "Recon" contract, you'll be trained in recon, but if you wash out of training or the initial screening, or are medically disqualified, you'll be reclassified as Marine Corp Infantry. There is such an option for Reserve enlistees being assinged to a Reserve Recon unit.

For active duty Infantry Recruits, while they are at the School of Infantry, they also ask for volunteers for “Recon” and then they take the Recon Screening. Once they pass the screening, they finish SOI and go to BRC (Basic Reconnaissance Course) and are placed in RMAT (Reconnaissance Marines Awaiting Training) and wait for a BRC Class to begin. If they pass BRC, they go to a Recon Bn and go through the “pipeline”. The chances of passing the screening and BRC are very slim. The Recon Indoctrination is hard for fleet Marines let alone someone coming right out of high school.

Like other Special Operations Forces, those wishing to become Marine Recon go through intensive training. In addition to Marine Corps Boot Camp and the School of Infantry, trainees then attend the Marine Corps Basic Recon Course, Airborne School, the Marine Combatant Diver School, and SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) School.

This training takes about six months. After completing the Basic Recon Course and other training schools, trainees report to their assigned Recon Company and continue with On-the-Job Training. After completing their first "float," Marine Recon are eligible to receive more advanced training such as (but not limited to) Ranger, Pathfinder, EMT, Military Free fall, Jumpmaster, Applied Explosives, and the Mountain Leaders Course (Winter and Summer).

To apply for Marine Recon, Marines must score a 1st Class rating on the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test and score a 105 on the GT portion of the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

There are three Marine Force Recon Companies on active duty, and two in the Reserves.

Active Duty: 1st Force Recon Company, Camp Pendleton, CA; 2nd Force Recon Company, Camp Lejuene, NC; 5th Force Recon Company, Capt Butler, Okinawa

Reserves: 3rd Force Recon Company, AL; 4th Force Recon Company, with elements in NV, HI, TX, MT, NM and Alaska.

Guide Note: On 20 June 2003, the Marines took the first step to officially join the Special Ops Community.

The above are the elite of the elite. There are other members of the Special Operations Community, not covered here, such as the Army's 160th SOAR, the aircrew of the Air Force's Special Operations Command, Combat Weather, and Navy Small Boat Units.