Indoctrination Course
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TSgt James J. Thede

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All students begin training with the I Course at Lackland AFB, TX. Here is where the weak and unfit are weeded out. We don't want wimps in the career field. You will be tested. The entire course is about 10 weeks long.

"Only 70% of 170 USAF Pararescue operators slots are filled", an Air Force Special Operations Commander says. Reason: "70% failure rate of airmen attending the 62-week Pararescue qualification course."

- Soldier of Fortune Magazine, July 1997
Because of the unique physical demands required by this specialty, recruits who intend to volunteer for Pararescue training should prepare themselves prior to Basic Military Training. A basic plan is included below. You need to read this information to help you prepare effectively. The more effort you put into preparation, the easier PJ training will be.



This training develops efficiency in oxygen transfer through activities that increase the heart rate to a training level and maintain it for at least 20 minutes. Running and swimming are the two training areas you need to work on prior to entering the Air Force.


You will be required to do extensive running during Pararescue training. These runs progress rapidly and after several weeks will vary up to 40 minutes and longer in duration. In preparation, you should run 3-4 times per week for 15 to 25 minutes, at a speed you can maintain without walking or stopping. You should be able to run 3 miles under 21 minutes prior to starting basic training.

You will swim everyday during the Indoctrination Course. A trainee may swim 2000 meters or more in a typical session. In preparation, you should swim 500-1000 meters, 3-5 times per week. You should be able to swim 1000 meters in 25-30 minutes using the freestyle stroke, prior to basic training.

Strength and Endurance:

The training and mission rigors of Pararescue will make strong demands on your overall strength and endurance capabilities. Strength is your ability to exert a strong force. Endurance is your ability to exert this force for a prolonged period of time. Your preparation must be geared toward developing a balance of strength and endurance throughout your body. This is best achieved with calisthenics (or weight training) that targets all your major muscle groups. If you are already involved in a weight-training program, continue; but revise your workouts to develop strength and endurance (8-12 repetition sets). Also include calisthenics as an addition.


The purpose of this course is to recruit, screen, and train candidates for each specialty (PJ and CCT). Training mentally and physically prepares students to deal with the rigors of the training pipeline, and their ultimate assignment. To prepare a student mentally, we will provide physical situations and stresses that test your determination and perseverance. This is done because PJ and CCT may find themselves in mentally demanding situations, where the lives of many depend on our abilities to function despite fatigue or injury. Indoctrination course training will emphasize unity and the strength of teamwork. Some candidates will feel our expectations are too high and will quit. If you do graduate, it should prevent you from failure in the pipeline, if 100% dedication is maintained. Before reporting to the I-Course, prepare yourself physically and mentally and consider the following information:

All students, regardless of rank will:

  1. Be housed in the I-course dormitory
  2. Abide by curfew, phase programs, and liberty restrictions
  3. Not drive a private motor vehicle or travel between pipeline schools in a POV
  4. Not consume alcohol during the I-course
  5. Not consume tobacco products during the I-course
  6. Eat all mandatory meals in the designated dining hall
  7. Take part in all school requirements, traditions, and activities
  8. Maintain exemplary standards of appearance and discipline
  9. Maintain living areas in accordance with selection course standards
  10. Perform Charge of Quarters (CQ) duties (except Team Leaders)

All students must train to their capacity. Objective evaluations as well as subjective feedback from instructors will be used to gauge student progression and motivation.

Students are expected to attain 80% or higher on all academic tests. Failing a retest will result in elimination from this course.

Senior ranking students will function as class leaders. They will be responsible and accountable for all students during training and will be the main focal point for cadre/student interaction.


There are two phases to indoctrination training. Phase 1, weeks 1-4, is Initial Familiarization Training (IFAM), which concentrates on teaching objective skills and preparing you for team training. During phase 1 you can expect to be participating in academic instruction and training in 2-3 events daily i.e. running, swimming, and calisthenics or water confidence. Phase 2, weeks 5-10, is team training, which concentrates on progression of skills taught in phase one and building team unity. During phase 2 you can expect to train in all 4 events daily. Also, continuing academics such as medical and dive terminology and CPR classes. Week 10 is ancillary training consisting of physiological training and administrative preparation for the pipeline. Every Monday during Phase I you will be administered a progress check to evaluate your progression in running, cals and swimming. Technically (as stated above), you can't wash out during Phase I (unless you quit). Expect 2-3 training sessions a day, consisting of run, swim, and/or cals/underwater confidence.

Phase I - Every monday during phase 1, you will be administered a progress check to evaluate your progression in running, calisthenics, and swimming. These are purely diagnostic evals. They will only be used by the individual to measure their own progress in training. You will also be administered tow examinations covering the material instructed on metric conversion and dive physics. You will be required to pass both exams with a minimum 80% score for each test. On the last day of phase 1, the first graded physical evaluation will be administered. It follows the standard phase 2 criteria covered below. Phase II - Every Monday during Phase II, you will be evaluated on running, cals and swimming. Ever Friday you will be administered an eval on underwater confidence tasks. It is in your best interest to come to each of these evaluations both mentally and physically prepared. The following criteria is used for weekly evaluations:

  1. Successfully complete the minimum calisthenics repetitions in the allotted time
  2. You will be evaluated on pull-ups, sit-ups, and push-ups
  3. Each calisthenic is evaluated separately. Repetitions will be counted by an instructor...only repetitions completed in proper form will be counted
  4. Failure of the same calisthenics exercise, in two consecutive evals is grounds for elimination for the class
  5. Successfully complete the required distance run in the allotted time
  6. Failure of 2 consecutive run evals is ground for elimination from the class
  7. To successfully pass a weekly water confidence evaluation a student must:
  8. Successfully complete the minimum time or distance requirements for bobbing, drown proofing, lifesaving, mask and snorkel recovery, buddy breathing, underwater knots, weight belt swim, treading water, and ditching and donning
  9. Failure of the same water confidence exercise in 2 consecutive evals is grounds for elimination from the class

Missing an evaluation due to medical waiver, sick call, or any other reason is an AUTOMATIC FAILURE of all areas missed.

If a student fails to achieve the minimum standard for any event during an evaluation he will still complete the remainder of the eval with his class.

Week Run Swim Push ups Sit ups Pull upsChin ups Flutter Kicks
Day 1 2 miles/15:00 min 1500M/45 min 35 40 7 7 45
Week 1 2 miles/14 min 1000M/20 min 45 50 8 7 55
Week 2 3 miles/21 min 1500M/30 min 50 55 8 9 60
Week 3 3 miles/21 min 1500M/30 min 50 55 8 9 60
Week 4 4 miles/28 min 2000M/40 min 55 60 9 10 65
Week 5 4.5 miles/32 min 2500M/50 min 60 65 10 11 70
Week 6 5 miles/35:30 min 3000M/60 Min 65 70 11 12 75
Week 7 5.5 miles/38:40 min 3500M/70 Min 70 75 12 13 80
Week 8 6 miles/42 min 4000M/80 Min 75 80 13 14 85


This is a two-count exercise. Starting position is hands approximately shoulder width apart with arms straight, the legs are extended, and the back and legs remain straight. Count one; lower the chest until the elbows extend above the shoulder blades. Count two; return to the starting position. The only authorized rest position is the starting position. You should be able to do 40-50 repetitions of this exercise prior to basic training.


This is a two-count exercise. Starting position is hanging from the bar, palms facing away (pull-ups) or towards you (chin-ups), hands spread approximately shoulder width, with no bend in the elbow. Count one; pull the body up until the Adam's Apple is above the bar, with the chin held level. Count two; return to the starting position. Legs are allowed to bend but must not be kicked or manipulated to aid the upward movement. You should be able to do 8-10 repetitions of this exercise prior to basic training.


This is a two-count exercise. Starting position is back flat on the ground, fingers interlocked behind the head, head off the mat, and knees bent at approximately 90 degrees. The feet (only) are held by another individual during the exercise. Count one; sit up to where the shoulders and hips form a line perpendicular to the ground (biceps are touching the knees). Count two; return to the starting position. There is no rest position during this exercise. The buttocks must remain in contact with the ground, and the fingers must remain interlocked behind the head. You should be able to perform 40-60 repetitions of this exercise prior to basic training.

Flutter Kicks:

This is a four-count exercise. Starting position is lying on your back, legs together approximately 6" off the ground leg and knees straignt, hands under the thighs/buttocks. On the count of 1 lift the left leg (keeping it straight) up to an approximately 45 degree angle...the right let remains in position off the ground. On count of 2 simultaneously lift the right leg in the same manner while returning the left leg to the starting position...basically scissor kicking. 4 counts equal 1 repetition.


A variety of different runs will be conducted during training at this course. These runs include long, slow, distance, fartlek, indian sprints, interval training, and others. The type running you will be evaluated on is "all out" distance running. Our standard for evaluated runs is a 7-7:15 minute per mile pace depending on the distance.

Fin Swimming:

All evaluated swims at the Indoctrination Course are distance swims using "Rocket" style fins. The swimmer is in the prone glide position with one arm locked out in front of him, to act as a guide arm. The other arm is trailing, or can be used -- in a side stroke fashion -- to provide propulsion (UDT recovery stroke). The legs are locked at the knees with the movement coming from the hips. The legs are used in flutter kick motion to provide propulsion. Breathing is similar to freestyle swimming, but is on one side only. The swimmers body is oriented to the side, but never on the back.

Equipment: Dive mask, Rocket fins, and booties


The exercise will begin with the students prepared to go and in a swimming lane. On the command "Go", the students will leave the wall and begin to swim, using only their legs, in a flutter kick manner to propel them through the water. Students will swim on their sides or stomach only, with one arm extended, looking down that arm and ahead while swimming. Upon reaching the wall, the student will turn around and continue to swim. This will continue until the required number of laps have been completed, or the instructor calls time. During fin swims no freestyle strokes or dolphin kicks will be used. If sprints are being conducted the instructor will specify a distance and maximum time to meet. Students will complete the sprint distance as quickly as possible and be allowed a rest period before the next sprint. To successfully complete swimming exercises you must complete each swim in the prescribed manner and within the time period prescribed. If you continually utilize improper technique, fail to complete a distance swim in the time allocated, or continuously fail to perform sprints within the maximum time, you will be scored as unsatisfactory for the exercise.

Water Confidence Evaluations
(Click on the Event Name for a description of that Event)
Week Mask
Buddy Breath-
Drown Proofing Tread-
ing Water
Equipment Recovery


10M 5 min (mild) info :30 sec xxx (8 lbs) xxx xxx


15M 7 min (mild) info :45 sec 4 min (16lbs) xxx xxx


20M 7 min (Mod) info 1 min 4 min (16lbs) xxx :15 sec


25M 2 min (Mod) info 1:30 min 5 min (16lbs) 1 :30 sec


30M 1:30 min (Full) info 2 min 6 min (16lbs) 2 :45 sec


35M 2 min (Full) info 2:30 min 7 min (16lbs) 3 1 min

The intent of the following training items is to increase your confidence in the water, increase the amount of time you can spend underwater, and increase your ability to react calmly and rationally in high-stress situations. The following pool training events will be evaluated during your training at the Indoctrination course.

WARNING: The following water confidence exercise descriptions are included for your information only! Do not attempt to do these exercises unless you have a lifeguard standing by for safety. Doing these events may lead to "shallow water blackout". If this condition occurs a lifeguard must be immediately available to prevent brain damage or death.


Equipment: mask, ropes or velcro hand/leg cuffs.


NOTE: Drown proofing starts at week 5. Drown proofing is accomplished in 4 tasks. The exercise begins with the student's hands and feet bound and the student sitting on the deck in the deep end of the pool. Upon the command "enter the water", the student will enter the water and start to bob. The first task is bobbing. Bobbing is accomplished by sinking to the bottom of the pool. Upon reaching the bottom, bend your knees and push off the bottom exhaling until you reach the surface. When your head reaches the surface, inhale and begin the process again. The second task is floating. Floating is accomplished by inhaling as much air as possible into your lungs. The student will then tuck his chin into his chest, bend forward at the waist and relax, staying within a 4x4 meter square. When air is required, you will bring your head out of the water, breathe then go back to the float position. Students will not touch the bottom or sides of the pool and are required to stay in the square. The third task is the traveling. The student will dolphin kick 100 meters without touching the bottom or sides of the pool. The dolphin kick is accomplished on your stomach, body bent at the waist and your head moving up and down in the water. Your feet and knees will propel you through the pool. The fourth task consists of flips and mask recovery. Once the travel is complete the student will begin bobbing again. Within five bobs you will accomplish a front flip underwater. Within another five bobs you will accomplish a backwards flip underwater. Once both flips are complete, a mask is thrown to the bottom of the pool. The student will go to the bottom, pick up the mask with his teeth, and complete five bobs. After all tasks are complete, the instructor will call "time". The safety will assist the bobber out of the water. To successfully complete this exercise the student must accomplish all of the above tasks in sequence and without panicking. If unable, he will be scored unsatisfactory for the exercise.

The following is the evaluation criteria for each week:

Week #5: Bobbing 5 min, Float - 2 min

Week #6: Bobbing 5 min, Float - 2 min, Travel - 100m

Week #7: Bobbing 5 min, Float - 2 min, Travel - 100m, Flips, Mask recovery.

Week #8 and #9: Same as week #7.

Mask and Snorkel Recovery:

Equipment: Mask, Snorkel, T-shirt, Booties.


The mask and snorkel exercise begins with all students at one end of the pool. The instructor will then throw or place the student's mask and snorkel a specified distance from the student. This exercise is accomplished one or two students at a time. On the command "go", the student will leave the surface of the pool and swim underwater to the location of his mask and snorkel. Upon reaching them, he will place the snorkel between his legs and position his mask on his face. Once positioned, he will clear the mask of water, retaining a small amount of air. He will then make a controlled ascent to the surface with the snorkel in his mouth and left arm extended above his head with clenched fist. Once on the surface he will clear the snorkel and give the "ok" hand signal to the evaluating instructor. He will ensure he is facing the instructor and immediately demonstrate that his mask and snorkel are clear by looking up at the instructor and breathing through the snorkel. A small amount of water in the mask is permissible as long as it does not exceed the top of the nose indents. While on the surface, the student will not break the mask or snorkel seal until the exercise has been graded and he is permitted to do so by the instructor. This exercise will be scored unsatisfactory if the student surfaces prior to clearing the mask or fails to satisfactorily perform in any of the above listed areas.

Buddy Breathing:

Equipment: Face masks, one snorkel per 2 man team, T-shirt, booties.


This exercise is conducted in the deep end of the pool. Students will enter the water when directed by the instructor. On the command "start", they will place their faces into the water and begin to survival float while buddy breathing from one snorkel. During the exercise period, the students will maintain control of each other with one hand. With the other hand they will maintain control and pass the snorkel between each other. A student should try to consider his buddy's limited air supply and take only one breath before passing the snorkel back. During this exercise the students will breath only through the snorkel. At no time will they remove their heads from the water and breath from the surface. The exercise period ends on the command "time". To satisfactorily complete this exercise, each student must keep his face in the water during the entire exercise period. He must remain calm, maintain control of himself, his buddy, and the snorkel. The student will be given one warning for unsatisfactory performance and on the next occurrence will be scored unsatisfactory for the exercise. Pool harassment is added as a more intense form of buddy breathing. It involves the instructor entering the water and providing the students with certain stressful situations to see if a student will panic. The same standards apply to this exercise. During pool harassment the instructor may troy to:

  1. Take the snorkel (don't let him)
  2. Remove the face mask
  3. Attempt to separate partners (don't let him)
  4. Cut off your air supply for one or two breaths
  5. Splash water
  6. Push students underwater

Treading Water:

Equipment: T-shirt, booties.


The exercise begins with the student moving from waist deep water into deep water. On the command "hands up", the student will raise their hands out of the water and tread water by using their legs only. The student must ensure their hands above the wrist and their head do not break the water line for the minimum evaluated time.

Weight belt swim:

Equipment: Mask, fins, booties, T-shirt.


The exercise begins when the student moves from waist deep water into the deep end of the pool. The student must swim on his side, either left or right, with the leading arm out in front, continuously for the designated period of time. While swimming, the student cannot switch from his left to right side or vice versa (the side you start on is it), swim on his back, or touch any portion of the pool (sides or bottom). The student can use his other arm to assist in a "recovery stroke" to help lift his head out of the water to breath.

Underwater Knots:

Equipment: 2 sling ropes per student, T-shirt, booties.


Preparing the Pool. The pool will be prepared for this exercise on instructor command. A long pool rope and the associated weights will be used in rigging the pool for training (the class leader will ensure these are at the pool). The rope will be strung across the deepest end of the pool, with the 25lb weights on the sides, holding the rope to the bottom. The exercise begins with the students spread out over the length of the rope treading water. Each student will have two ropes (one in hand and one stowed in the swimming trunks). The instructor will then announce the know or knots to be tied on the dive. On command, each student will descend to the rope and tie the required knot(s) prior to surfacing. All knots will be dressed and the tails will not be less than 4 inches, nor greater than 8 inches. After the knot(s) have been tied an instructor will check them to ensure they are tied correctly. If tied incorrectly the exercise will be repeated until the student is able to complete the required knot(s). If he is unable to satisfactorily tie the knot(s) he will be scored as unsatisfactory for the exercise.

Equipment Recovery:

Equipment: Mask, fins, booties, T-shirt, weight belt.


The exercise begins with all equipment on and the students in the shallow end of the pool, lined facing the deep end of the pool. On the command "move to the deep end", the students will begin treading water and moving to the deep end of the pool. Once at the deep end, the students will tread water for a specified time period. On the command "ditch your equipment", the students will make a clear water surface dive to the deepest part of the pool. They will then ditch their gear in the following sequence: fins together and pointed to the head of the pool, mask on top of the fins, weight belt neatly placed over the mask and fins. After ditching, each student will make a controlled ascent to the pool surface with left arm over his head with clenched fist, and give the "ok" sign to an instructor. On the command "recover your equipment", students will make a clear water surface dive to their equipment, and don it in the following sequence: weight belt first, fins second, mask third. Each student will then clear their mask and make a controlled ascent to the surface with clenched fist above the head. On the surface, they will give the "ok" signal to an instructor and move to the head of the pool with their head out of the water and mask clear. Students will not touch any equipment on the way to the head of the pool. At the pool head, the students will exit the water and sit on the pool edge with their hands on top of their heads. Their equipment will then be checked for proper configuration by an instructor. To satisfactorily complete the exercise the student must ditch his equipment correctly on one dive and make a controlled ascent. He must then don his equipment correctly on one dive and make a controlled ascent. The students mask must be completely clear of water. When checked, the weight belt must have a right hand release, and no twists in any straps. The fins must be full on the feet with no twists in the straps.