USAF Pararescue School
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TSgt James J. Thede

Updated as often as I can, see whats new at the site.


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Kirtland AFB, New Mexico...home of the USAF Pararescue School. This is the best part of the training. Here is where you put everything together. You will get advanced medical training (upgrade to either EMT-Intermediate or EMT-Paramedic), technical rescue training, field operations, tactics, air operations and advanced parachuting including tree jumps and scuba jumps.

Overview of USAF Pararescue School


Medical phase now consists of upgrade to the National Registry of EMT's Intermediate level, or Paramedic level. We used to get our own specialized training, but since we now do a lot of ride alongs, it is much better to be certified with the NREMT since virtually all states recognize it's standards and procedures.

The Air Force MAJCOMS have decided what quals they want for PJ's assigned to their commands (ACC=EMT-I, AFSOC=EMT-P). Either way, it is good medical training. My EMT-I upgrade involved about 2 weeks of classroom training, 1 week ambulance ride alongs, and 1 week of final exams and practical evaluations. Not the easiest of phases, you have to stay in shape, and study hard! Medical exercises are also implemented throughout the rest of your time at Kirtland. It must be remembered that Pararescuemen are primarily RESCUE TECHNICIANS...this is what separates us from other medics in all the services. PJ's are skilled trauma medics, trained in all aspects of combat and peacetime recovery including ground operations (tactical, evasion, survival), water operations (jumps, SCUBA, hoist/litter ops, RAMZ, etc.) flight operations (all methods of insertion and extraction, aircrew/
weapons systems procedures) and technical rescue operations (technical rope/litter evac, aircraft shutdown/access, etc.) making us uniquely qualified for a broad range of missions.


When you get to the career field, you will be issued a standard medical rucksack. This is the basic ALICE pack that most all services use, ours if full of med gear. You carry enough equipment to treat approximately 3 patients. You carry gear to do all kinds of procedures to include, bandaging, splinting, tracheotomies, chest tubes, intubations, thoracentesis', crycothyroidotomy's, Intravenous access, etc. Depending on the mission, items are pared and tailored to meet requirements. Needless to say, you can't carry everything on a 6 day cold weather operation and still have room for necessities. We also have a plethora of accessory gear to include patient monitors, hypothermia kits, burn kits, oxygen kits, resupply kits, backboards, KED boards, etc. We also have to capability and requirement to administer numerous drugs and narcotics as the situation dictates.


We also have the ability to deploy with specialized medical vehicles such as the RATT (Rescue All Terrain Transport) and your basic 4 wheel quad. The RATT is a tactical mobile ambulance. It can carry up to six litter-borne patients with room for 2-3 PJ's on board (not including the driver) to continue medical treatment. The quad is simply rigged to carry a litter and used to move non-critical but non-ambulatory patients to a central treatment area.

And of course...we operate with numerous types of helicopters primary of which are the MH-53 and MH-60. We act as both crew members and passengers depending on the mission and unit of assignment.


Field operations can be categorized as the foundation for ground operations. Many areas are general in nature, however numerous specific objectives must be met. Chief of which is the ability to survive in a hostile environment. PJ's must be able to evade and survive in any environment if a mission goes bad (peacetime or combat). The field phase teaches one discipline. It trains you to accept inconvenience and discomfort, to know the environment, and instills a positive mental attitude. It teaches you to survive, no matter what the cost.

THE BASICS: The basics begin with an introduction to your equipment and how to care for it. You are expected to maintain all your equipment at all times. You learn how to care for, repair, store, and maintain your equipment under field conditions. If you are found with a discrepancy, you have one day to repair it, if it is a critical item, you may have to repair it on the spot...using any means available. You also learn how to pack your rucksack properly, ensuring that items are not damaged or lost. You learn to wear the rucksack properly with the LBE (load bearing equipment). With 90 lbs of rucksack and 20 lbs of LBE, it is essential that the team member learn to always be as comfortable as possible with his equipment.

FOOD PROCUREMENT: The likelihood that a team member may be left behind or placed in a survival situation (with or without downed pilot), although slim, necessitates the real life need for food procurement. Students must learn how to identify, procure, prepare, and preserve edible food sources. You will learn to foraging and procurement techniques, and be required to procure food for yourself.

SIGNALLING AND COMMUNICATIONS: All trainees are taught the basics. He must understand proper signals, improvised signals, commercial/military signals, and sound producing signals. He must also be familiar with electronic communications and the proper care for his vital survival and long-range radios.

THE SEARCH: Usually, a team will have to search for an objective. Each trainee must be capable of implementing a complete search scenario from planning to exfil. Using the information taught in class, a team must recognize behavior patterns of the common survivor, how to set up base camp, give team briefings, communicate among themselves, etc. A medical problem usually awaits the team upon reaching the survivor. They then must treat and evacuate the casualty.

NAVIGATION: Each student is required to be proficient in navigation, day or night. He must know the basics of geographic fundamentals, map interpretation, coordinate systems, compasses, how to determine location, aerial navigation, map orientation, resection, declination diagrams, using an altimeter, and pace count. All these tasks must also be accomplished in the dead of night...with and without the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG's). Trainees are assessed on their navigation ability prior to heading out for their 10 day mountain and navigation operation.

Pecos Climbing
MOUNTAIN OPERATIONS: Since a large portion of the world is covered with mountains and adverse terrain, and this terrain must be traversed to reach an objective, training must be accomplished in these areas. Mountain/adverse terrain training consists of recognition and use of climbing hardware, knots, knot and rope management, mountain walking and balance climbing techniques, construction of rope bridges, rappelling, rope ascension, belay techniques and basic movement over different types of terrain. The ability to climb or descend severe terrain is determined in this phase.

THE TOWER: The 40 foot tower (located at the school) is where it all begins. The tower has various routes to the top that the student practices on, prior to doing it for real on the rocks. The trainee must pass a rigorous assessment prior to climbing on the rocks. Most tower work is accomplished using improvised/expedient equipment to show the trainee that he can still be effective, without the high-speed commercial gear. Once comfortable with this type of gear, he is introduced to the latest in climbing hardware and becomes proficient in it's use.

FIELD TRAINING EXERCISE: Once all the academics are complete, as well as the practice and evaluations on the tower, the trainees are moved to the Pecos mountains for 10 days of mountain/field operations. Upon arrival, students pitch camp while instructors inspect gear and clothing for contraband. Only rations and water are allowed. Once camp is established, trainees are given training on woodcraft/fire craft, and land search. Early the next day, they head to the rock. Items taught at the rock include basic rock craft, climbing, ascending, rappelling, river crossings, high and low angle litter evacuation, and improvised systems. The next day they are off to the bowl. Here, working in pairs, each student climbs a 700 ft rock face in five sections. Students alternate with lead climbing and belaying. On day 4, trainees are evaluated on all aspects of mountaineering. Before the student can continue, he must pass all evaluations with at least a satisfactory score.

DAYS 5 THROUGH 9: These 5 days involve trainees moving out on planned routes of travel practicing navigation and adverse terrain movement techniques. They move constantly from site to site and become proficient finding their location on the map. He will be required to locate his position within 50 meters at any time (no GPS here!). At the end of each day, debriefs are conducted. Along the way he will build fires, forage for food, and may have to do anything from construct a rope bridge, to treating a simulated injury and evacuating the casualty. At the end of these 5 days, students are evaluated on their navigation ability, and ability to locate themselves on the map (within 50 meters). Then, it is on to Tactics!

The course is set up to ingrain the basic functions of a small team operating under extreme conditions and to familiarize the student with the operating procedures of other operators for quick integration. The nature of the training necessitates that the student be isolated from other interferences and put into an environment compatible with the objectives being taught. Each student works to achieve a standard of proficiency which will allow him to function as a team member in any capacity. Under the guidance of an instructor team leader, each student must accomplish several mission scenarios with emphasis on night operations. Instructors, posing as adversaries, are quick to take advantage of any situation in which a team's integrity or discipline breaks down. The tactics course also trains the trainees on the basics of capture, escape, and evasion.

The code of conduct, geneva convention and the prevailing law of land warfare and armed conflict are taught also. Combatives also play an important role to the PJ trainee. He will learn to defend and take on an attitude of self confidence. Each trainee will practice various forms of combatives. Each will be taught that while you must have an aggressive attitude, it must be tempered with maturity and realistic job application. The student is also trained in operating in Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical battlefield environments. 90% of operational taskings are conducted at night. The use of night vision devices will greatly enhance the chances of survival and the completion of certain missions. NVG's are used extensively, but not exclusively throughout the tactics phase. This teaches the students the benefits and limitations of both variations. The tactics phase concludes with a 3-5 day tactical overland mission to an objective (survivor), treatment, packaging, and evacuation.


Air operations...the final phase of PJ school. As you enter medical training, you see these guys (if there is another team ahead of you) running up to the school in their flight suits and you wonder if you will ever reach that point. PT, discipline, and standards are never can fail here as easy as anywhere else.

Day fastrope

Aircrew knowledge encompasses a lot of information. You are taught crew coordination, scanning and aerial search techniques, emergency procedures, and aircraft systems operation. This is the academic portion, helicopter operations come later.

jumpers in the air


Next, the trainee is taught advanced parachuting academics and training. You are taught how to land in a tree, water, or normal dropzone. You practice rigging your gear with scuba tanks, waterproofing everything, tree let-down procedures, PLF's, etc., etc. etc.! You are also introduced to the tree suit (a life saver) and practice with it. Keeping in mind that Burris DZ is at 5000ft MSL, you can imagine how important it is to do a proper PLF (for the novices...higher altitude, less air density, HARDER landings!). Your equipment is foam wrapped rail road ties to simulate a fully loaded rucksack (50-70lbs). Each trainee will make approximately 10 land jumps, 2 tree jumps, and 5 SCUBA jumps for a total of 17 of which 4-6 will be night jumps.


Here is where the aircrew knowledge comes into play. You are also taught various employment methods including Fast Rope, Rappelling, Rope Ladder, Hoist, Low and Slow and airland ops. You learn to operate the hoist from inside the aircraft, how to package a patient and evacuate him using a stokes litter and hoist. You learn how to deploy into the water from about 10' and 10 knots (not difficult, but it can hurt, especially if your cast master isn't paying attention i.e. 30 and 30!). You practice these techniques throughout your 2 weeks of helo operations.


The day has finally arrived. You will receive your Maroon Beret. Quite an event, graduation takes place in the morning.Many team member's bringing their families and friends. There is a guest speaker, and many PJ's (active and retired) attend from around the globe. After graduation comes the party. A quite a party it is...