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Last Updated: 24 June, 2016

This article is structured as follows:

  • Part 01: Background to Special Operations Weather Team Officer.
  • Part 02: Entry Standards and Applications.
  • Part 03: Outline of Special Operations Weather Team Officer Selection & Training
  • Part 04: Miscellaneous.

PART ONE: BACKGROUND

1.0     Introduction

Logo, AFSOC, Air Force Special Operations Command, US, Special Forces, USAFThis article provides an overview of the recruitment, selection and training process for the US Air Force’s Special Operations Weather Team – Officer (SOWT-O).

SOWT Officers are one of three officer specialities along with four enlisted specialities that form what are known as Battlefield Airmen (Table 1). Weather personnel that support conventional Army and special operations are considered Battlefield Airmen (BA) according to Air Force Policy Directive 10-35, ‘Battlefield Airmen’. In brief, these Battlefield Airmen include:

  • Combat Controllers (CCT): Are specialists who focus on air-to-ground terminal control.
  • Pararescuemen (PJs): These are the guys you see in all the movies (think Black Hawk Down). They deliver battlefield trauma care, as well as personnel recovery and combat search and rescue.
  • Combat Weather Teams: Meteorological interpretation, which can affect how the battlefield is going to change and how commanders conduct operations.
  • Tactical Air Control Party (TACP): Are air-to-ground specialists, but they focus primarily on close air support (CAS).
  • Survival, Evasion, Resistance & Escape (SERE): Perform duties as the name implies. Not strictly a special operations role, but has significant input in training and exercises conducted by special operations.

These Air Commandos form the special operations element of the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) Special Operations Forces (SOF) community, which is the air component of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

The role of a US Air Force Special Operations Weather Team Officer is to command, manage and perform weather operations for US Air Force and US Army support organisations activities. Their role includes:

  • Integrating current and forecast atmospheric and space weather conditions into operations and operational planning.
  • Developing, directing and coordinates meteorological and space weather studies and research.
  • Supporting and executing weather operations through leadership and management of weather groups, squadrons, flights, detachments and operating locations.
  • Supporting US Air Force core weather responsibility to provide meteorological and space weather information for air, ground, and space operations.

Consequently, SOWTs are experts in weather operations. SOWT’s are part of the 10th Combat Weather Squadron, a unit of the 720th Special Tactics Group, based at Hurlburt Field in Florida. There are approximately 100 SOWT operators, around 25 of which are officers.

From boot camp to first deployment, a SOWT officer may undertake up to two years of training.

It must be emphasised that a candidate must be physically fit at the beginning of the SOWT Officer training process if they are to stand any chance of success. The course requires far greater expenditure of physical energy than is normally required in other peace time training. It is essential that candidates arrive fully fit, carrying no injuries and with a sound grasp of basic leadership techniques.

It should be noted that the US Air Force announced in May 2015 that the SOWT-O pipeline would end (US Air Force, 2015). Special Operations Weather Teams would now be commanded by Special Tactics Officers.

1.1     Aim

The aim of this article is to describe the fundamental entry requirements, selection process and training for personnel seeking to become a US Air Force Special Operations Weather Team Officer.

1.2     Women and US Air Force Special Tactics

From January 2016, in accordance with current US Federal Government policy on the employment of women in the US military, service in the US Air Force’s SOF community is open to both male and female volunteers (Pellerin, 2015).

Women in the US military have, for a number of years, been able to serve in a variety of SOF-related roles, including:

  • Intelligence;
  • Military information support;
  • Civil affairs units;
  • Female engagement teams;
  • Cultural support teams; and
  • Air Force special operations aviation roles.

As of March 2015, approximately two-thirds of the roles in USSOCOM were integrated (Vogel, 2015).

1.3     Air Force Special Operations Specialty Codes

There are a number of Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC) within the USAF special operations community, known as Battlefield Airmen, as outlined in Table 1.

Table 1: Air Force Specialty Codes for Battlefield Airmen
Officer Roles AFSC Code
Special Tactics Officer (STO) 13CX
Combat Rescue Officer (CRO) 13DX
Special Operations Weather Team – Officer (SOWT-O) 15WXC
Enlisted Roles
Combat Controller (CCT) 1C2XX
Pararescue (PJs) 1T2XX
Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) 1C4XX
Special Operations Weather Team – Enlisted 1W0XX
Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) 1T0XX
Source: US Air Force, 2014a; 2014b
  • For officers, there are three levels, with each level represented by the suffix: 1 (Entry); 3 (Qualified); and 4 (Staff).
  • For enlisted personnel there are five levels, with each level represented by the suffix: 11 (Helper); 31 (Apprentice); 51 (Journeyman); 71 (Craftsman); and 91 (Superintendent); replace the 1 with 2 for SOWT-E.
  • For SOWT-O, the C suffix represents special operations trained.

PART TWO: ENTRY STANDARDS AND APPLICATIONS

2.0     Introduction

20070718adf8262658_063.JPGInformation regarding the basic requirements for enlistment or commissioning in the US Air Force can be found by clicking on the links, which the reader is advised to read if not already familiar.

The US Air Force does not accept direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience, for the SOWT Officer role. As a result, volunteers for SOWT Officer may be accepted from US Air Force officers from the weather utilisation field to serve with the US Air Force’s Special Operations community.

Consequently, there is one recognised pathway to becoming a US Air Force SOWT Officer:

  1. Enlist while in the US Air Force and apply for training.

2.1     Special Operations Recruiting Liaison

Recruitment for SOWT Officers is conducted through a number of Special Operations Recruiting Liaison Operating Locations (OL-C to O) throughout the US.

The OL’s fall within the 24th Special Operations Wing.

2.2     General Requirements and Eligibility for All Candidates

Subject to the requirements outlined below, all weather-qualified US Air Force officers are eligible to attend the SOWT Officer training programme.

General Requirements for all candidates:

  • Completed Weather Officer Course (WOC).
  • Completed Weather Flight/Detachment Officer Course.
  • Qualification and possession of 15W3.
  • Completion of specialty training courses.
  • Meet physical qualification for parachutist duty.
  • Maintain physical fitness standards.
  • Completion of a current Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI).
  • Able to obtain a Top Secret Security clearance.
  • Pass relevant Physical Fitness Test (PAST, BAPFT or ROPFT: view Section 2.6).
  • Medical:
    • USAF Class III Flight Physical (Special Warfare Initial Clearance).
    • Have normal colour vision; and
    • Have vision of 20/70 or better, correctible to 20/20.
  • Candidates are selected from US Air Force Active Duty officers (up to Captain (OF-2), with maximum 2-years’ time in grade).

2.3     General Requirements and Eligibility for Air National Guard Candidates

As I understand it, qualifying National Guard candidates must become full-time Active Duty to pursue careers in all Special Tactics career fields (needs verification).

2.4     General Requirements and Eligibility for Reserve Candidates

Qualifying Reservists must become full-time Active Duty to pursue careers in all Special Tactics career fields.

2.5     Candidates from another Branch of Military Service

Candidates from another branch of military service can apply for service as a Combat Rescue Officer.

2.6     Rescue Operator Physical Fitness Test

US Navy SEAL Training (4)The Rescue Operator Physical Fitness Test (ROPFT) is the new name for the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST), which it is replacing during 2016.

The ROPFT is utilised as an initial physical screening tool that must be passed in order to start training (and also during training where the standards become more stringent).

The AFSC’s identified in Table 1 undertake ROPFT tests that have slightly different minimum standards based on the requirement of each role, as well as different components.

On some documents the test is known as the Battlefield Airman Physical Fitness Test (BAPFT) and has four tiers: recruitment test; accession test; training test; and operator test (Scott, 2016). A number of the tried and tested components remain, but there are a number of new components. Scott provides a good initial overview of the (proposed) test. The test from another angle can be seen here.

With this in mind, Table 2 provides an outline of the ROPFT test for the SOWT-O Selection process (completed in the order shown). Each event is graded and a composite score created which must exceed a minimum of 530.

Table 2: Air Force Rescue Operator Physical Fitness Test
Event Component Criteria Time Limit Rest Period
1 Calisthenics
1a Heaves 12 or more 1 minute 2 minutes
1b Sit-ups 75 or more 2 minutes 2 minutes
1c Press-ups 64 or more 2 minutes 15 minutes
2 3 Mile Run Non-stop 22 minutes or less 30 minutes
3 Surface Swim 1500 metres non-stop 32 minutes or less N/A

PART THREE: OUTLINE OF US AIR FORCE SOWT OFFICER SELECTION AND TRAINING

3.0     SOWT Officer Selection and Training Phases

The journey to becoming a SOWT officer is not easy, and training is rigorous and highly selective, but the courage and strength individuals will gain as a candidate will stay with them for their entire life.

The SOWT officer training programme is the selection and training process for all candidates wishing to join the Air Force’s SOF community as a SOWT officer.

All candidates will undertake a number of distinct stages of training (Table 3), in which candidates are taught the fundamentals of Air Force special warfare through formal US Air Force schooling and on-the-job training.

Table 3: SOWT Officer training pipeline
Stage Programme Sub-course/Element Duration
Preparation Commissioning Process Variable
Officer Training School 9.5 weeks
Weather Officer Course (WOC) ?
Weather Flight/Detachment Officer Course 10 weeks
Assessment Special Operations Weather Selection Course 2 weeks
Initial Qualification Training (IQT) Basic Airborne Course (scroll down to Section 3,2) 3 weeks
SERE Training 2.5/3 weeks
Water Survival, Parachuting 2 days
USAF Underwater Egress Training (UET) ?17 days
Special Operations Weather Apprentice (SOWA) Course 13 weeks
Special Tactics Operational Readiness Course or equivalent combat skills field course 12 months
Evasion and Conduct After Capture (ECAC) ?
Battlefield Weather Course ?
Mission Qualification Training (MQT) Consists of initial familiarisation and combat mission ready certification, followed by unit directed duty position requirements. Variable
Continuation Training As required training that is necessary to maintain proficiency Variable
Source: Air Force Officer Classification Directory, 2014, p.71-72; CFETP AFSC 15WX, 2012, p.12-13 & 45

The skills and knowledge gained during this programme of training includes:

  • Weather observing and forecasting techniques, and procedures.
  • Leadership of small weather teams/shifts.
  • US Air Force weather activities.
  • Special Operations Weather:
    • Advanced field skills.
    • Environmental reconnaissance tactics, techniques and procedures (TPPs).
    • Leadership of small unit tactical operations in the joint special operations arena.

3.1     Training Hierarchy

The 342nd Training Squadron, commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4), is a unit of the 37th Training Group and is headquartered at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The Squadron is the home of all US Air Force Battlefield Airman entry-level training for PJs, CCT, SOWT and TACP candidates, and has a number of geographically dispersed units (Table 4) that deliver Battlefield Airman Career field training to candidates.

Table 4: 342nd Training Squadron Subordinate Detachments and Operating Locations
Unit Title Location Purpose
Detachment 1 Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico Pararescue/Combat Rescue Officer School
Detachment 2 Naval System Agency, Panama City Air Force Combat Dive Course
Detachment 3 Hurlburt Field, Florida Tactical Air Control Party/Career Air Liaison Officer School
Operating Location A Camp Bullis, Texas Expeditionary Skill Training (Basic Combat Convoy Course (BC3) and Combat Airman Skills Training (CAST))
Operating Location B Fort Benning, Georgia Basic Airborne Course, Jumpmaster, Ranger School and Pathfinder
Operating Location C Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina Combat Control/Special Tactics Officer, Special Operations Weather School and Air Force Jumpmaster
Operating Location D Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona US Army Military Free-fall School
Source: US Air Force, 2011

3.2     Preparation Prior to Assessment and Selection

US Navy SEAL Training (1)A number of Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) detachments have special clubs which are geared towards Air Force SOF aspirants. An example is the Red Rope Club, part of AFROTC Detachment 157 located at Daytona Beach, Florida, and hosted at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Embry-Riddle, 2016).

The AFROTC Detachments have training relevant to SOF candidates including physical fitness, water training etc.

There is (or was) a Battlefield Airman Development Course (BADC) which candidates undertook (at Lakeland Air Force Base in Texas) prior to entry in a Battlefield Airmen training pipeline (USA Jobs, 2014), although not sure if the BADC applied to SOWT officers.

3.3     Officer Training School

If not already done so, candidates will undertake the 9.5 week Officer Training School Course which is undertaken at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

3.4     Weather Officer Course

The Weather Officer Course (WOC) is delivered by the 81st Training Group at Kessler Air Force Base in Mississippi. The course provides the initial skills training for all 15W officers.

The WOC provides training for US Air Force officers (AFSC 15W1) with the skills and knowledge necessary to perform the duties of a Weather Officer. Training includes:

  • Career development;
  • Concepts of observing weather elements;
  • Decoding meteorological reports;
  • Weather analysis and prognosis;
  • Weather support systems;
  • Wartime weather support;
  • Operations of an Operational Weather Squadron (OWS);
  • WSR-88D, Doppler Radar;
  • Meteorological satellite (METSAT);
  • Space Environment; and
  • Concepts of weather communications.

3.5     Weather Flight/Detachment Officer Course

The Weather Flight/Detachment Officer Course is 10-weeks in duration and is delivered by the 81st Training Group at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. The course provides the initial skills training for all 15W officers, providing meteorological concepts focusing on tactical weather support.

The course is a prerequisite for an assignment at a Weather Flight or Army Detachment, and will improve a junior officer’s familiarity with running a weather flight or army detachment as a flight commander or officer in charge (OIC). Training includes:

  • Joint Doctrine;
  • Organisation of forces;
  • Employing weather forces;
  • Chain of command versus functional management; and
  • Tactical equipment operations.

3.6     Special Operations Weather Selection Course

The Special Operations Weather Selection Course is delivered by the 342nd Training Squadron, located at Lackland Air Force Base Annex in Texas.

The selection process screens an applicant for mental fortitude and physical capabilities, while preparing candidates for future duties as a SOWT officer. Thus the selection process reduces the training attrition rate by ensuring that candidates selected are equipped to succeed in the specific mental and physical challenges of the training pipeline.

This two-week course focuses on sports physiology, nutrition, basic exercises, special operations weather history and fundamentals.

3.7     Basic Airborne Course

All candidates must attend the Basic Airborne Course delivered by the US Army at the Airborne School, Fort Benning in Georgia (CFETP, 2012).

During the 3-week course, candidates will learn the basic parachuting skills required to infiltrate an objective area by static line airdrop.

Detailed information on the 3-week Basic Airborne Course can be found here (scroll down to Section 3.2).

3.8     SERE Training

The 2.5-week (3-weeks?) SERE (Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion) training course is delivered by the US Air Force Basic Survival School, located at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington (CFETP, 2012).

The course teaches basic survival techniques for remote areas (using minimal equipment) and training include principles, procedures, equipment and techniques, which enable individuals to survive, regardless of climatic conditions or unfriendly environments and return home.

3.9     Water Survival, Parachuting

The Water Survival, Parachuting course is located at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida (CFETP, 2012).

This two-day course teaches principles, procedures, techniques, and equipment that enhance a candidate’s ability to survive in a water environment and assist in their safe recovery and return to friendly control.

3.10     USAF Underwater Egress Training

Royal Marines Dunker Drills
Royal Marines Dunker Drills

Underwater Egress Training (UET) is delivered at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington (CFETP, 2012). I believe the course is delivered over 17-days (needs verification).

SERE specialists train personnel how to safely escape from an aircraft that has landed in the water. Training includes principles, procedures and techniques necessary to escape a sinking aircraft.

The UET systems are a collection of mature technology training devices that provide emergency egress training techniques and procedures to passengers of aircraft, wheeled, and tracked vehicles from submerged water conditions.

Consequently, the purpose of UET is to enhance passenger survivability, regardless of platform or the causal factors that result in a rollover or submersion incident. UET provides this training in a coordinated physical environment in which knowledge based instruction is taught in the classroom which can then be applied and practiced in a safe, supervised and realistic environment.

UET includes a number of training devices:

  • The Modular Amphibious Egress Trainer (MAET) is a simulated generic fuselage section representing specific aircraft, cockpit and cabin emergency escape exits.
  • The Submerged Vehicle Egress Trainer (SVET) is a ground vehicle simulation of the High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) and a generic amphibious track platform.
  • Shallow Water Egress Training (SWET) training, which includes the SWET chair.
  • Familiarisation and operation of the Intermediate Passenger Helicopter Air Breathing Device (IPHABD).

3.11     Special Operations Weather Apprentice Course

The Special Operations Weather Apprentice Course/Combat Control Apprentice Course is a formal resident course for Special Operations Weather personnel.

This 13-week course provides final special operations weather qualifications. Training includes:

  • Physical training;
  • Austere weather operations;
  • Tactical weather observations;
  • Small unit tactics;
  • Land navigation;
  • Communications;
  • Demolitions; and
  • Field operations including parachuting.

3.12     Special Tactics Operational Readiness Training Course

Candidates must complete the Special Tactics Operational Readiness Training Course (or equivalent combat field skills course) in order to produce mission-ready operators for the Air Force and US Special Operations Command. The course is 12 months in duration and is delivered at Hurlburt Field.

3.13     Evasion and Conduct After Capture

Candidates must complete the Evasion and Conduct After Capture (ECAC) Course (since October 2008 this is taught at ASBC and meets this qualification).

Trains personnel in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), and equipment that enhance evasion, resistance, and escape prospects, in any hostile environment. This course is mandatory for all first time Army support weather personnel (1W0X1, J1W0X1, 15WX).

3.14     Battlefield Weather Course

Mission ready training for Weather personnel being assigned to their first Army-support assignment, and conducted by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Training includes task qualification in Army-unique skills for enlisted and officer personnel. This course is mandatory for all first time Army support weather personnel.

3.15     Battlefield Airmen Course

Currently all 15W Army support officers attend this course either prior to their first Army support assignment or while assigned to an Army support unit. This course provides training in the knowledge and skill to operate in an Army centred assignment.

3.16     Graduation

Graduating from the Special Operation Weather Team Officer training pipeline, SOWT officers were assigned to the Combat Weather Squadron in AFSOC.

PART FOUR: MISCELLANEOUS

4.0     Summary

The Special Operations Weather Team Officer branch was open to all appropriately qualified male officers of the US Air Force. Special Operations Weather Team Officer Training sought to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the US Air Force’s SOF community. This article provided the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for Special Operations Weather Team Officer training.

4.1     Useful Books, Documents and Magazines

  • Air Force Policy Directives (AFPD):
    • AFPD 10-30 – Personnel Recovery. Dated 09 February 2012.
    • AFPD 10-35 – Battlefield Airmen.
    • AFPD 16-12 – Pararescue. Dated 01 July 1998.
    • AFPD 16-13 – Survival, Evasion, Resistance & Escape (SERE). Dated 01 March 2000.
  • Air Force Instructions (AFI):
    • AFI 10-3502, Volume 01 – Pararescue & Combat Rescue Officer Training. Dated 16 February 2011.
    • AFI 10-3502, Volume 02 – Pararescue & Combat Rescue Officer Standardisation & Evaluation Programme. Dated 30 April 2012.
    • AFI 11-403 – Aerospace Physiological Training Programme.
    • AFI 13-112, Volume 1 – Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) Training Programme.
    • AFI 13-112, Volume 2, Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) Standardisation/Evaluation Programme.
    • AFI 13-219, Volume 1 – Combat Control & Special Tactics Officer Training. Dated 21 April 2011.
    • AFI 13-219, Volume 2 – Combat Control & Special Tactics Officer Standardisation & Evaluation. Dated 21 April 2011.
    • AFI 15-135, Volume 01 – Special Operations Weather Training.
    • AFI 15-135, Volume 02 – Special Operations Weather Standardisation & Evaluation.
    • AFGCM Supplement 16-1202, Volume 2 – Pararescue and Combat Rescue Officer Standardisation and Evaluation.
    • AFI 16-1202 – Pararescue Operations, Techniques & Procedures. Dated 19 November 2009.
    • AFI 31-501 – Personnel Security Programme Management.
    • AFI 36-2210 – Airfield Operations Officer Training Programme.
    • AFI 48-123, Medical Examinations and Standards.
  • Career Field Education & Training Plans (CFETP):
    • Career Field Education & Training Plan for AFSC 13DX, Combat Rescue Officer. Dated 01 February 2015.
    • Career Field Education & Training Plan for AFSC 15WX, Weather Officer. Dated 15 March 2012.
    • Career Field Education & Training Plan for AFSC 1C2X1, Combat Control. Dated 01 September 2014.
    • Career Field Education & Training Plan for AFSC 1T2XX, Pararescue Specialty. Dated 15 May 2008.
    • Career Field Education & Training Plan for AFSC13MX, Airfield Operations Officer. Dated 01 September 2011.
  • Reports and Studies:

4.2     Useful Links

4.3     References

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (2016) Air Force ROTC. Available from World Wide Web: https://daytonabeach.erau.edu/rotc/air-force/index.html. [Accessed: 03 March, 2016].

Pellerin, C. (2015) SecDef Opens all Military Occupations to Women. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.therecruiterjournal.com/secdef-opens-all-military-occupations-to-women.html. [Accessed: 04 December, 2015].

Scott, A. (2016) Upcoming Report: US Air Force Battlefield Airmen Physical Fitness Test. Available from World Wide Web: http://strongswiftdurable.com/military-athlete-articles/upcoming-report-analysis-proposed-us-air-force-battlefield-airmen-physical-fitness-test/. [Accessed: 03 March, 2016].

US Air Force (2011) 342D Training Squadron. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.37trw.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=18585. [Accessed: 06 March, 2016].

US Air Force (2014a) Air Force Officer Classification Directory (AFOCD). Randall Air Force Base, Texas: Air Force Personnel Centre.

US Air Force (2014b) Air Force Enlisted Classification Directory (AFECD). Randall Air Force Base, Texas: Air Force Personnel Centre.

US Air Force (2015) US Air Force Ends SOWT-O. Available from World Wide Web: https://m.facebook.com/pages/Special-Operations-Weather-Team-Recruiting/156014841107605. [Accessed: 09 March, 2016].

USA Jobs (2014) Training Instructor. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/PrintPreview/370209800. [Accessed: 03 March, 2016].

Vogel, J.L. (2015) Statement of General Joseph L. Vogel, U.S. Army Commander United States Special Operations Command before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, March 18, 2015. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.socom.mil/Documents/2015%20USSOCOM%20Posture%20Statement.pdf. [Accessed: 29 December, 2015].

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