Hurlburt Field, Fla. --
A little rain didn't dampen the drive of the 18 special tactics candidates taking the Physical Ability Stamina Test held March 12 at Hurlburt Field.
Hosted by the Air Force Special Operations Training Center, candidates had to pass every element of the PAST to qualify for combat control, pararescue, special operations weather or combat rescue officer.
The CCT and SOWT test consisted of two 20-meter underwater swims; a 500-meter swim in 14:30; 1.5 mile run in 10:45; 6 pull ups in one minute and 45 sit ups and push ups each in two minutes. Pararescue candidates had to complete the 500-meter swim in 11:30 and the 1.5 mile run in 10:22.
Although only eight guys passed the test to qualify, everyone received individual feedback by the AFSOTC recruiter liaisons so they knew what physical limitations they needed to focus on for future tests.
For those wanting to join this elite group of special operators, it takes more than physical abilities to be successful.
Adam Small, a CCT candidate in the delayed enlistment program who leaves for basic training in June, joined the Air Force and CCT, in particular, to push himself both physically and mentally.
Although this is not the first PAST for Mr. Small, he keeps taking the test to improve his scores. He wants to improve his run and swim times.
His advice to those candidates who didn't pass the test today is, "Don't give up."
"When I first started thinking about special tactics, I couldn't even swim one lap across the pool, so I just jumped in the pool and started training," he said. "Within a month, I was doing five laps; within two to three months, I could swim a mile.
"I didn't think I could ever swim more than two laps," he said. "Just know that you can do it. You just have to find your weaknesses and focus on that, but don't forget about the other areas, because they'll start to drop. You definitely have to train everything."
Training everything is something Staff Sgt. Matthew McGonagle, 801st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, knows something about. He is re-entering the CCT pipeline in June after he made it through CCT selection and jump school, and then had to withdraw from Air Traffic Control School because of family issues.
Asked how his scores compared to previous PASTs, he admitted certain aspects weren't as good since he hasn't had as much time training on his swimming, although he's confidant his scores will improve.
"I tried to do perfect form," he said. "They expect me to do everything right because I know better."
When asked what qualities he feels he has to be successful as a CCT, he described determination and selflessness as very important.
"A lot of it's in your head and being able to shut that off in your mind is a good quality to have to get through everything," he said.
His advice to those who didn't pass the PAST and may want to give up? "Everybody's got a comfort zone," he said. "Your mind always gives up first; you've got to get to the point where your mind gives up and then you keep pushing on a little bit further each time until you eventually 'get comfortable being uncomfortable,' a quote I heard and try to remember when I start getting uncomfortable."
Getting the recruits more comfortable is the job of the AFSOTC recruiters. They were provided with some professional advice by an Olympic trainer to assist them to do just that.
Greg McMillan, a professional running coach who trains the U.S. Olympic team in Flagstaff, Ariz., provided the recruiters with a 12-week training program they can give to potential candidates to help them not only do well in the PAST, but to help them succeed through the pipeline and beyond.
"One of the issues facing this command is not only trying to have candidates prepared to meet the minimum standards for whatever job it is, but to help them exceed those standards so they're more prepared once they get into the pipeline," Mr. McMillan said.
He talked to the recruiters about injury prevention, running form, breathing, cadence or stride rate - all the things he feels they'll be able to communicate to the candidates they're working with to give them a better shot at success from the running side.
"A lot of what they're doing is looking for the right mental traits for something they are going to face when they do the test," he said. "With our Olympic training team, it's very similar to what these guys are doing. We're recruiting talent and we search the United States when they come out of college to say I think you have what it takes - and that's both physical and psychological."
Mr. McMillan said he could really identify with what the AFSOTC recruiters are trying to do in finding those people with the right skill set: the right physical qualities, mental qualities and motivation.
Technical Sgt. Ryan Hall, AFSOTC recruiter liaison, agrees that it is now up to them to "provide the environment where we build motivation and confidence in the guys."
"It really boils down to why they want to do it and how far they are willing to push themselves to help the mission," said another recruiter liaison, Staff Sgt. Scott Flannery. "They need to have the ability to overcome the physical with the mental. We want someone who continues to pursue advancement in their physical and mental capabilities."
AFSOTC plans on hosting the next PAST test in the fall. For more information on joining this elite group of special operators, check out www.afsoc.af.mil/specialtactics