*It appears that one of the latest classes of candidates transitioning from SW Prep to A&S where about half of the candidates quit the first day because they were not prepared! 8 weeks of SW prep and still they were not prepared!

I think that a lot of PJ, CCT & SOWT recruits are being set up for failure because watercon is not being emphasized enough during the recruitment phase, and too much emphasis on just passing the PAST test. You have instances where candidates are being recruited into dive required AFSC’s with very little time to prepare before they ship out to BMTS. After BMTS, SW Prep only has 8 weeks to train them up. (*see statement above) In my opinion, a potential recruit needs at least 4 to 6 months of just watercon prep prior to SW Prep to be truly ready for the rigors of A&S. This falls on the Development Contractor to do more than concentrate on just passing the PAST test and develop pre-SW Prep training for what the candidates will experience in A&S. Things like: Mental Toughness Exercises, Breath Holding, Drown Proofing, Water Treading, Buddy Breathing under duress, Underwater Knot Tying, increased Underwater Swimming beyond 25 meters, Open Water Swimming and Surface Swims with uniforms or clothing beyond the 500-meter PAST (inform the candidates that they will be swimming 2000 meters and beyond in A&S) …. A 500-meter swim to 2000 meter + swim is a huge jump and takes time (months) to properly train for! All of this cannot be done in an 8-week prep course that also has to concentrate on other things like running, calisthenics, ruck marching, weight lifting, and other competing events. If because of liability concerns the contractor cannot accomplish this watercon training, then at least educate the recruits of what additional watercon training is needed for their success at A&S and let them seek out training on their own.

As someone who works with potential recruits (just a dude trying to help), they are often left with a lot of confusion with all the changes and they don’t know how to properly train for their chosen AFSC’s, especially the increased emphasis on Watercon.


Staff member
The setup for failure is not watercon training in itself or the lack of preparation for it. It gets convenient blame or becomes the convenient excuse for other factors in play.

Old School PJs before CCT and SOW implemented award of mission qual required SCUBA/Combat Diver will tell of many successful high school and college/university competitive sports athletes quitting indoc while poor swimmers like myself, Thede, and many others got through water confidence even though it was a struggle to do so,

I myself was pulled off the bottom of the pool three times during the Past given me during BMT. The Indoc NCOIC was impressed with my determination and gave me two week of Indoc to improve my swimming and water confidence abilities. I ended up being the second best as far as swim distance times and buddy breathing under duress in he class as I watched in daily amazement of fellow students that weren't struggling as much as myself and the others in my class who did succeed struggled with it everyday. I can assure you I went to bed many a night after the training day thinking of quitting.

When this was special tactics forums the previous owner (TE) put up an excellent post of his daily struggle with doubts of getting through the training.

PJs were doing deliberate water jumps into the ocean since WWII and thus Pararescue has always had a swimming and water confidence requirement decades before CCT and SOWT. With the introduction of RAMZ during the late 1980 the swimming combined with the requirement to swim to a vessel and climb aboard a vessel with medical gear has gotten some what easier. However review of open ocean jump missions still reveal getting aboard a vessel parachuted to or sitting in a one man life raft for a few days after the film canister jettisoned from an orbiting satellite was Fulton recovered isn't the most easiest or safest bunch of task to do. If I recall correctly the longest two PJs were floating around waiting for hopefully the Navy rather than the Russians to pick them up was 2-3 days.

Attached picture is: Left to right Lou Roberts Tom Newman, Clif Caffall and Jackie Porter after Tom Newman (one of my PJ school instructors and a civiliain Indoc instructor after he retired from the military) and Clif Caffal Jumped on the Submarine USS Barbel in January 1967. They jumped to a medical trauma situation the subs IDMT needed help with.

Half the class voluntarily self eliminating themselves on the first training day is an indication something else is in play having nothing to do with the pool, water, and swimming.



Great insight as always Yukon. One thing you have to agree with is the water is the great equalizer and most candidates quit do to Watercon. From what I am understanding is that you are only allowed two underwater blackouts now, and after that you are medically eliminated. One of the main reasons for the new SW overall was to reduce the attrition, a lot of money, time and effort has been spent. To see hear of such a large class still self eliminate after all the changes is concerning.


Staff member
This is an excellent conversation, thanks for bringing this up. My thoughts:

New recruits have inevitably heard about SW Prep: 8 weeks of getting you ready for A&S. A theory is that new recruits may not be comfortable pushing their physical and mental boundaries as they believe Prep will get them graduation-ready. Prep's numbers are showing a low improvement in physical capability from start to finish of their program. Additionally, Prep to date has not shown an emphasis on pushing watercon boundaries. Thus, while recruits are showing up physically and mentally healthy, they are not showing up mentally resilient. Again, just a theory.

At the end of 4 weeks of A&S that just finished up, there were hardly any CCT/SOWT recruits remaining but quite a few PJs recruits. The expectations of recruits and recruiters need to be reset: CCT and SOWT require just as much water confidence as PJs. I don't believe this was the expectation in the past and may have caught some people off guard.

SW Prep, A&S, recruiters and the SW Training Group are well aware of the criticisms, issues and concerns. A restructuring of a selection course to this magnitude will inevitably have issues to overcome and the concerns raised above are no different.

To all of the potential AFSPECWAR recruits out there that read these forums, here is my advice to you:
-Do not use the PAST test as your golden ticket or guide to whether you are ready. To be successful at A&S, you need to blow the PAST numbers out of the water.
-Before going to Basic Training, be comfortable with pushing your physical and mental boundaries in and out of the water. What does that look like? Examples: Pushing through leg cramps on a heinous ruck or fin swim. Feeling comfortable and pushing through bronchial spasms (the guppies) while doing underwaters. Completing grass and gorilla drills while completely nauseous. Etc.
-Show up to Basic Training and Prep physically strong and physically healthy. If you show up with injuries, don't expect Prep to be a miracle worker and magically fix them. If interested in workouts specifically designed for getting strong and not broken, we recommend Team ST
-Realize that A&S is different than indoc. At indoc, if you could survive and meet grad standards, you graduated. A&S is not like that- instructors will give you the boot if they deem you do not have the desired attributes of an AFSPECWAR operator. This happened on the first class- guys finished the 4 weeks but were still told to pack their bags. See our Assessment and Selection page for more details.



Staff member
It is a concern (to hear of such a large class still self eliminate after all the changes is concerning) but guessing to what caused such a large number of candidates to SIE on the first day of training is equally a concern.

What I do know is those that SIE haven't been allowed to walk away without being interviewed to determine why they SIEed hasn't happened since the 1970s. Also those that do SIE are often encouraged to return to training on belief such decisions were generated by a spur of the moment made in haste decision (at least that was the practice implemented before I retired in 1996).

Until about seven years ago, I could get some insight from Indoc staff or the functional managers as I was stationed with most of them and had a strong professional relationship with them. I no longer have such access.

The original purpose of PJ Indoc was for the attrition to happen before many training days and a lot of money was spent on students who quit during the pipeline or after immediately completing the pipeline. The discussion of such problems of we trained them but now they refuse to do the job is captured in documents going back to 1956 (probably farther if all the documents were properly archived).

The PJ training program put thru weak swimmers and even a few who couldn't swim at all and trained them to be strong competent since 1947. Since 1973 I have direct knowledge of hundreds of trainees with weak swimming ability becoming strong swimmers with strong confidence in their ability to be in rough waters while many hometown HS football, wrestling, and swimmer athletic heroes quit within the first three days of training.

As human performance is determined by the factors motivation x ability x environment.

As the most basic requirement of a parachute rescue (Para-rescue/Pararescue) capability is to perform duties regardless of the climate, terrain or body of water (river, lake, ocean) and weather the significance of the environment factor is obvious.

Environment being the least controllable by man and the least predictable as where and when a life must be saved gives very little advanced warning.

While training and education can improve and strengthen ability, such methods at best improve confidence, but not necessarily the motivation needed to tolerate and adapt to the level to succeed in doing when the going gets tough.

Consequently, a voluntary SIE--not to be confused for non-voluntary removal for not meeting the standards, is ALWAYS connected to the candidate either losing confidence or motivation, or both presuming the individual had adequate motivation to begin with.

From a 1951 Air Rescue Service document discussing screening and selection and attrition problems:

The most important quality which rescue and survival personnel required was self-reliance and mature judgement in addition to experience. The mere fact that an individual was a qualified jumper did not necessarily make him a good candidate for the rescue and survival school. The training to become a jumper was approximately 3% of the total training required to become a qualified specialist.

Furthermore, the medical training phase has stressed to a much greater degree during this period. (medical academics was proving to be a difficulty for many students, it still is due to the amount of judgment needed to treat the severely injured)
Just got the Stats: SW prep started with 118 this January, 38 quit the first training day, by day 2 fifty were left. 34 sent to A&S and even though it was made clear to all the students going through SW prep and subsequently A&S that failure of an event didn't mean elimination from training, they quit anyway. It also appears A&S is now a 5 week pre-dive course (effective with class starting the course next week.

IMO, most interesting considering how much the time and new technology and money was invested in the course to be of best benefit and interests of the students. This past September 2018 all current, former, and retired PJs attending the PJ Association reunion were given extensive access to the SW prep area to include the dorms and on-training site briefings and observation of students being trained. All the old school PJs were totally impressed and some what jealous of how much methods of training had improved since the days we went through Indoc. Many commented their disabilities would be much less severe if what was being done now to prevent injuries and rehabilitation from injuries was being done during the old days.

Water confidence training cannot be blamed when being put into the difficulties of A&S selection water confidence training hadn't happened yet.
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So if I am hearing you correctly, it is coming down to individual intestinal fortitude and will not watercon to be the great eliminator, Interesting?? Most sources I have come across all seem to point to watercon being the biggest item for not being successful in INDOC or A&S; the info you put out that the most recent A&S self elims occurred before hitting the water is an eye opener. So the mental toughness component, which in my opinion is most overlooked sounds like it is the issue. So the question seems to beg, why is this the case? You seem to have a very firm grasps on past statistics on human performance going back decades. So in your assessment, and I know this will touch some nerves from some readers of this forum, is this “millennial” generation appearance of being a “softer”generation than ones in the past a factor or can you point it to something tangible as to why we seem to have a greater breakdown in the mental toughness/human performance expectations at A&S. This discussion has become an eye opener.


Staff member
Watercon is a source of high elimination because it requires commitment gained from motivation to get through it more so than ability as the PAST standards identify the minimum required level of fitness ability is possessed by the candidate/student before they start training.

The training experience gained by going through the program has always been designed to get most of the students successfully through the program. The training objective and goal was never to find or produce super humans or the elite. The only thing creeping into complicating the training is people these days are too frightened of failing, or not being the top trophy winner or using the volunteering for certain career fields as a career stepping stone on a resume. Fortitude, persistence, tenacity, determination, resilience, grit, adaptability all come into play in water confidence training more so than other training environment because this training environment is the least under the student control to game and the least under the students control to hide the quality of their mental and emotional fitness, more so than extended training days.

It is also the most demanding environment and controllable for safety of the students that can be easily simulated in a training environment. The only training environment that can get close is resistance training which has too much exploitive mental and emotional potential of damaging mental and emotional fitness that there are significant limits placed on replication that war prisoner/captive environment. In fact such training has plenty of examples during 1962-64, and again in 1995 (Air Force To Tone Down Training Role Playing To Resist Sexual Abuse Went Too Far). The incidents during the 1960s caused several suicides and caused permanent psychological injuries to a few others.

See attached file. There is no way such operational situation and circumstances would be allowed to be replicated for training purposes. It is an example of over one hundred rescue missions of similar in situation and circumstance that PJs successfully accomplished during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.



I want to add one last thing to this mental toughness portion of this thread that I hope is beneficial to all that want to train to become a PJ, CCT, Recon, TACP, CRO, STO, or whatever….this guy is a former Navy SEAL and put together a great series of eleven youtube videos that touch on some basic components of mental toughness. Yes he is a former SEAL and the vids are BUDS/SEAL centric, but just substitute whatever job & jargon you are going for, the information still applies. The series does not have to be watched consecutively, and in my opinion, #3 should be watched first. During the #3 video pay attention to the 3:25 mark, the 5:27 mark and the 6:50 mark. Enjoy these and I hope they help can help someone in some way.

Mental Toughness Series Episode #1 – Patience

Mental Toughness Episode #2 Consistency

Mental Toughness Episode #3 TRUTH This one is a must watch! Watch today! Pay attention at 5:30 mark!!!! And the 6:50 mark!!!

Mental Toughness - Episode 4 - Humility

Episode #5 of Mental Toughness - LISTEN

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJnWNNJ-ohU Mental Toughness Episode #6 Resiliency

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBEBzSJK1Yw Mental Toughness Episode #7 Communication

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdD9Lw0Lftc Mental Toughness Episode #8 – Reliability

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdEBBHkiU0A Mental Toughness Episode #9 – Creativity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLuMkxlyfIM Mental Toughness Episode #10 - Never Quit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51OIzy1O9Ag Mental Toughness Episode #11 - LOVE
This is a great thread, with great insight.

Just my two cents for what it may be worth.

I wholeheartedly agree that blowing the PAST test out of the water has the ability to make your life easier during these COIE. Having that ability means you have a strong baseline physical prowess, and “should” mean you have the ability to dominate this course.

So, the question posed is why are there so many SIE’s the first two days, and recruits want to gain insight into why candidates are not making it through the course. Again this next part is only my opinion, so take from it what you will, but I believe the first two days for any course is a shock factor. What happens during your preparation, during your research, and then especially during BMT and your lead up to DOT 1 is putting this training on a pedestal. You’ve talked the talk, you’ve been cocky to everyone around you, but you haven’t earned anything yet. You may be the most physically fit, and you might even don the confidence. But when the shit hits the fan on DOT 1 you may induce the panic of what the hell did I just get into. Doubt doesn’t creep in, it rushes in due to this pedestal your mind has placed on it. Since it’s only DOT 1, the quitters rise up. Along with this, is the idea that quitting can be a cancer among teammates. You start seeing these other guys quit, and if you have the quit in you, you continue doubting yourself until you convince yourself you’ll be happy elsewhere.

So, is there anyway to avoid this conundrum? The Air Force sure thinks so with the Prep course. Only time will tell as statistics unfold. My belief is that you need to have a humble swagger about yourself. Ensure you can comfortably pass the PAST test, but don’t stress about the fact that you may do 67 push-ups instead of 76. The standard is the standard is the standard. Meet the standard, exceed the standard, and keep grinding forward. There were those before you that made it, so why wouldn’t you? Stay away from the cocky POS’s in basic, and never join the dick swinging competitions. Do your job and do it well. No one expects you to be great, that’s the point of training. Just trust the process, and trust yourself to perform and you’ll do fine.

And avoid putting this whole thing on a pedestal.


Staff member
The cause for the SIEs has never been connected to incapable or not dominating the training. SIE options exists for only certain courses of initial training requirements most often, but not always, connected to duties once the 3-level specialty AFSC being awarded requiring the nature of all duty assignments requiring all the service members holding the AFSC to have the willingness to undertake unusual and dangerous risks. The SEI option brings with it the assurance the withdrawal of the willingness to perform such duties while in initial courses of initial training for award of 3-skill level AFSC will not have any career consequences. It also brings the obligation for all candidates must be adequately informed of the hazards they may expect, and must be accepted only on a volunteer basis. I still have a copy of the volunteer statement I was required to sign the day I completed the PJ Indoc course.

There are decades of record of too many who dominated the physical requirements and had all the ability to successfully get through training to push it on causes other than the individual deciding to voluntarily self eliminate from training. Those who quit certainly encouraged others to quit when they saw the quit was easy with no consequences. Unfortunately, this encouragement is actually they were considering quitting already and somebody else quit before they did and consequently they had the satisfaction of not being the first in the class to quit.

(The pedestal) A contributing causal are held notions certain specialties being a ticket to what ever they want while serving in the military and after they complete their military service. There is also unrealistic expectation certain particular specialty being the tip of the spear. Being the tip of the spear has a lot of boring and away from home and family boring time (PERSTEMPO and OPSTEMPO) and not the glory and expectation video games and Hollywood entertainment suggests. Being in student status for two years is a psychological hardship of its own. Once trained and qualified the PERSTEMPO and OPSTEMPO includes may boring hours sitting on alert, being in the field or away from base of permanent assignment and family (if married) training. It includes a lot of uncomfortable hours of doing high risk training.

Several studies have indicated many Air Force Academy and ROTC cadets are now choosing career paths in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Office of Special Investigation (OSI) rather than seeking to become a rated officers (pilots) or going into civil engineering and other line officer utilization areas under belief these careers are good for getting high paying exciting jobs once out of the military. This trend seems to have started with TV shows like NCIS, NCIS-LA, NCIS-New Orleans, FBI, and The Code gained both popularity and presence on network TV programming. These entertainment exaggerate and glamorize and avoid the uncomfortable and boring aspects of many career and occupational pursuits. How many TV shows show the difficulties of dealing with body waste and hygiene while submerged underwater for weeks and months or on the International Space Station where the flush doesn't go to a waste treatment facility. There may be an occasional gym scene or two in NCIS-LA, but certainly not put into context of occupational fitness. Also in one show they take massive amount of bullet wounds, broken bones and in the next a miraculous healing happens with no residual damage from the injuries. During my career as many of the people I know and worked with got killed or seriously disabled doing training as they did on actual missions. This is a reality often not considered and in 1973 the possibility of US troops getting involved in the Yom Kippur War (AKA, Ramadan War, or October War) certainly caused a few in my Indoc class to SIE. There is also a spike in SIEs whenever a training death became common knowledge to students in the training pipeline.

In t976 there was a significant number of PJs killed on aircraft training sorties that crashed, parachute accidents, and climbing accidents. There was a significant spike in SIEs during that year. It's not a simple problem of gaining or having mental toughness and the decades of attempts to fix the SIE problem at the Indoc selection level hasn't reduced the SIE attrition problem yet.
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