Air Force Pararescue Training - Hell Night


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice

Up at 4:30 a.m. before the roosters even start crowing, pararescue plebes spend the day running, swimming, lifting weights, doing callisthenics, performing details and hitting the books in the classroom. By 9 p.m. that night, most slump into their beds, where they nearly collapse into dreamland as soon as their heads hit the pillow. No need to count sheep.

Then a siren screams. It’s only 9:30 p.m.

Those who were fortunate enough to catch a wink, jump up with a start, hearts seemingly trying to leap from their chests.

The whirring of the siren is followed by an instructor’s tirade through a bullhorn that makes the siren seem like lullaby music in comparison.


It might actually be kind of cool, if indeed, there really was a chopper waiting. Instead, this is the start of what instructors at the 10-week pararescue indoctrination course call an "extended training day."

There’s no rest for the best.

Before it’s all over, the students will know exactly what it means to be pushed to physical and mental limits without the benefit of a full night’s sleep.

For the next 19 hours the instructors push the team to their limits both mentally and physically, preparing them for the rigors of the pararescue training pipeline.

"It’s the hardest and most stressful experience they will have during the course," says Staff Sgt. Tim Hanks, a pararescue training instructor. The physical demands placed on the students, accompanied by a lack of sleep, produce a stressful environment. The extended training day is designed to introduce students to the rigors of operations and promote team building. Sleep deprivation, although not an aim, is a factor in the process. Working under harsh conditions with minimal sleep is a way of life for pararescuemen. Being pushed and experiencing the effects of sleep deprivation during a controlled environment, under the constant watch of instructors, is an essential part of pararescue training.

"This is the safest place to put them in a stressful situation," Hanks says. "It’s better to do it here in training instead of the field when bullets are flying."

The training, already difficult and demanding, becomes tougher when the element of sleep deprivation is introduced. The lack of sleep makes individual tasks more difficult to accomplish.

"You will notice the students start to slow down, make mistakes at the littlest task and start to second guess themselves," Hanks said.

This is exactly what the instructors are seeking.

"As an instructor, when I start to see signs of sleep deprivation, I begin to push the trainees together as a team even more," said Hanks, who forces the entire team to re-accomplish a task if one person doesn’t meet the requirements. "By the end of the night, they will have realized they can’t make it through by themselves."

There’s a good reason for that.

Some of the tasks they face after their shocking wake-up call include water confidence drills in a dark pool, a gruelling ruck march, a leadership reaction course with navigation and problem solving, and a 1,750-meter swim in an icy reservoir.

At the reservoir, students have to strip down to their Speedos and make their way into the chilly water with wetsuits in hand. Instructors make the trainees submerse their wetsuits before wearing them. They watch the students cringe as they pull on the cold wetsuit. Then it’s the exhausting swim and what seems like a million flutter kicks.

Once back at the school, weary-eyed trainees prepare for a medical terminology class.

"This is the toughest part of the whole day — staying awake [in the classroom]," said one of the students between yawns.

Soon the entire class quickly fades into what appears to be a well-choreographed ballet of yawns and bobbing heads. Students keep an eye on each other to ensure no one nods off. They know one sleeping trainee means more flutter kicks for the entire team.

Finally, the room is called to attention. Hanks walks in with a handful of gray T-shirts and a bag of ascots. The T-shirts say "Pararescue Trainee," and the ascots are pararescue scarves. Both are symbols of accomplishment. They show everyone that the trainees have made it halfway through the pararescue indoctrination course and have what it takes to finish it.

"Now you guys know what sleep deprivation feels like," Hanks said. "You have been up for the last 48 hours. Now relax; it’s over."

Then, Hanks asks an instructor to bring forward another bag containing a long, 3-inch thick rope, a sacred symbol of all pararescuemen, past and present.

Hanks asks the team, "Are you guys ready to get rid of the rail and trade it in for a rope?"

In unison the class erupts, "HOO-YAH SERGEANT!"

Then it was off to bed for some well-deserved sleep.
Anyone here who does Pararescue or has done it in the past I say You guys ROCK!! I can't imagine being able to do any of that. Although I can attest to sleep deprivation being a parent but Iwas not attempting to do the tasks you guys do.

Thank you again for serving.