Air Force Creates Special Warfare Program for Cadets to Help Fill Empty Spots

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Cadets practice infiltration from an Army CH-47 Chinook.
Cadets practice infiltration into an objective area from an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter during the Special Warfare Orientation Course at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 28, 2022. (U.S. Air Force Academy courtesy photo)

The Air Force has created a new program to help recruit and train college-aged ROTC and Air Force Academy cadets for special warfare jobs, which it has been struggling to fill amid the service's ongoing recruiting crisis.

"Historically, neither the Air Force Academy nor AFROTC filled all of their commissioning slots for Special Warfare, which down the road impacts mission readiness," Col. John Graver with Air Force Special Warfare said in a press release.

The Air Force's new program for cadets was tested at two-week Special Warfare Orientation Courses this summer at the Air Force Academy, according to a press release issued Saturday.

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More than 60 cadets took part and went through exercises such as land and water fitness, troop leading procedures, small-unit tactics, decision making and personnel recovery missions, the service added.

One of the issues the service has faced with selection for special warfare is that many candidates have been physically underprepared to face the strenuous graded events that determine whether they can join the highly selected field, something the new course is designed to remedy.

The new program, which debuted this summer, comes as the Air Force faces its toughest recruiting environment in decades. Earlier this year, the service offered hefty bonuses -- up to $50,000 -- for its most challenging and dangerous jobs, such as special warfare operators.

Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, Air Force Recruiting Service commander, told Military.com in an April interview that getting young men and women to sign on the dotted line has been more difficult, and financial incentives help.

"Special Warfare is our toughest area to recruit," Thomas said. "We are looking for people who are uncommonly physically, mentally and emotionally strong. And we're looking for people who are attracted to the adventure and the challenge of being in our nation's Special Operations Forces."

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee personnel panel, said during an April hearing -- citing Pentagon information -- that just 8% of young Americans have seriously considered joining the military.

And only about one-quarter of young Americans are even eligible for service these days, a shrinking pool limited by an increasing number of potential recruits who are overweight or are screened out due to minor criminal infractions, including the use of recreational drugs such as marijuana.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr., speaking last month at a Washington, D.C., think tank, said it's likely the service will hit its recruiting goals this year, but it will be very close.

"We are going to end up landing on fumes," Brown said at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. "It'll drive some challenges as we go into fiscal year 2023. ... The workforce is a bit different today than when I got in."

Graver said in a press release that he hopes the new program will help younger cadets feel more confident in becoming Air Force special warfare operators.

"It's an extremely challenging and rewarding career like no other and it's one the country needs young men and women to go into," Graver said.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Air Force Now Offering Up to $50,000 Enlistment Bonuses for its Most Dangerous Jobs

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