The Air Force announced Wednesday that it is getting rid of BEAST week during Basic Military Training, the four-day-long deployed war exercise that has been a staple of the service's boot camp for the last 16 years.
BEAST week, which stands for Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, will be replaced by a new exercise. Trainees will still go out in the field, but it will last for only a day and a half.
"If we get it right, it will be the highlight of their BMT experience, despite only being 36 hours in length," Col. Jeff Pixley, 737th Training Group commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, said in a press release announcing the change Wednesday. "Early feedback suggests we are absolutely on the right track."
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The new exercise will go by another lengthy acronym, PACER FORGE, which stands for the Primary Agile Combat Employment Range, Forward Operations Readiness Generation Exercise.
BEAST week has been a major part of basic military training since 2006, and offered airmen the chance to go on a mock-deployment where trainees sleep in cots, go on ruck marches, work on security protocol and weapons training, and fight simulated threats.
But Pixley, who assumed command of Basic Military Training in 2021, decided that BEAST week was outdated for some of the modern Air Force's needs.
As the Department of the Air Force pushes its new philosophy of establishing "multi-capable airmen" -- meaning it wants to have troops able to take on more responsibilities so they can carry out missions with fewer people -- the new exercise develops trainees for a variety of missions in their careers, including "base operating support functions," the release said.
During the new PACER FORGE exercise, airmen "will deploy to the former BEAST site" and "will be put to the test with scenarios that are built to provide flexibility, promote information seeking, teamwork, decision making and are results focused," according to the press release.
The service is still sorting out the details of what those exercises will look like.
Space Force Guardians, who also attend Basic Military Training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, will also go through PACER FORGE during boot camp.
"We want it to be something trainees consider so important and formative that they don't spoil it for those that follow," Pixley said in the press release. "This is not the end of an era but rather a symbolic change to develop capable and ready Airmen and Guardians ... anytime, anywhere."
The Air Force's Basic Military Training has dedicated days to mock deployments and combat scenarios since 1999, when the service had Warrior Week. That began to change in 2004 and was replaced in 2006 with BEAST week, which has remained largely unchanged for the past 16 years.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Eric Benken, who served as the Air Force's top enlisted leader from 1996 to 1999, told Military.com that Warrior Week was a necessity for enlisted airmen during that era, when the likelihood of being sent to deployable environments was significantly higher.
"We had to change Basic Military Training to prepare airmen for being stationed in deployed locations. They learned how to identify situations where IEDs might be present, how to defend a base, and we reinforced that all airmen are warriors," Benken told Military.com. "It met the requirements for what we were facing at the time, and I would say it was applicable for the last 20 years that we were in Afghanistan and Iraq. I would suspect the leadership is looking out in a visionary way and seeing what we need for the future."
The Air Force isn't the only service branch to modify long-standing norms of basic training.
Military.com reported in October that Army recruits will endure less screaming during boot camp, but new training policies have made the mandatory fitness and marksmanship requirements more demanding.
At the beginning of this year, the Navy announced it was lengthening its basic training from eight to 10 weeks to provide sailors with more practical training, such as life skills and professional development. Officials said it was the first major shake-up of the sea service's boot camp in 20 years.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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