Airmen from the 330th Special Operations Recruiting Squadron, Special Warfare Training Wing and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape are working together to recruit, train and create better Airmen for special warfare and combat support specialties with the help of big data.
“We needed to come up with a better way to find candidates who can handle the rigors of training for career fields like pararescuemen, combat controllers and SERE,” Lt. Col. Heath Kerns, 330th Special Operations Recruiting Squadron commander, said. “SOR (Special Operations Recruiting) is working with experts from these career fields to determine key characteristics in successful candidates.”
Part of spotting a quality candidate means recognizing a candidate’s potential according to Chief Master Sgt. Joshua Smith, Special Warfare Human Performance Squadron superintendent.
“Up until this point it was strictly about someone’s physical ability,” Smith said. “We now know we can get that person to where they need to be physically, but we can’t help if the candidate has a cognitive road block.”
To ensure candidates have the mental grit to make it through the extensive training, the recruiters at the 330th SORS enlist retired special operations Airmen who now act as coaches and mentors to candidates before the candidates enter the Air Force’s Basic Military Training. These developers act as coaches and mentors and also provide professional development to ensure candidates understand the full range of what training will entail.
“These developers help to cultivate that stronger why, that passion behind what they do to endure,” Kerns said. “We all recognize that you can’t just meet the skills requirement, you have to have a passion for the job.”
Kerns says the future candidate pool for special warfare and combat support is small but highly developable and trainable and will ultimately be successful.
“So far with the help of SOR, technology and big data, we have increased production by 21 percent in 18 months,” Smith said. “Technology is showing these candidates scientifically how much their bodies are capable of accomplishing.”
Over the eight-week Special Warfare Preparatory Course, which is conducted five times a year, special warfare trainers collect about 400 data points per day on each of the 150 candidates using seven different sensors.
Those data points are fed into one secure central database where trainers can see candidates’ info to include sleep quality, calorie burn and G-force impact from exercise.
“These technologies, like biometrics, are helping trainees understand their bodies like machines.” Smith said. “We can put them in a stressful situation, see their heart rates spike and teach them how to bring it down so they can focus and accomplish the task at hand. Otherwise, they are bound to get flustered, frustrated and fail the test.”
The Special Warfare Human Performance Squadron’s sole purpose is to look at performance of special warfare Airmen and determine how to optimize training time. SWHPS is the first squadron of its kind in the Department of Defense.
Similar to members of the Special Warfare Human Performance Squadron, SERE Airmen are also incorporating technology and data to enhance training. SERE cadre monitor heart rates during solo training exercises and screen core body temperature as a preventative tool to ensure each trainee is safe during secluded exercises.
“Seclusion is a key factor in SERE training because it gives our candidates experiences to draw from when teaching warfighters down the road,” Master Sgt. Daniel Jones, SERE Standards and Evaluations Detachment 3, 66th Training Squadron, said. “We must ensure that our candidates have the confidence, tools and knowledge necessary to teach others how to get themselves back to friendly control should they find themselves isolated.”
In addition to heart rate and body temperature, SERE is also tracking location and cognitive ability.
“We’re trying to get a peek behind the curtain as to what’s actually happening in that person’s mind,” Jones said. “There is a lot of mental resiliency that goes into our career field and we all must function properly under high stress situations.”
Air Force Special Warfare includes combat controllers, tactical air control party, pararescuemen, and special reconnaissance (formerly special operations weather). SERE specialists are instructors who are experts on how to survive in the most remote and hostile environments in the world.
“The Air Force is the only military service to designate SERE specialists as a full-time duty, not special duty assignment,” Jones said“At the end of the day, we’re training our replacements. I want my replacement to be better than what I was when I was in their shoes and if big data helps us to create better SERE specialist it’s a win.”
“Special warfare and SERE career fields are stressful and physically demanding,” Kerns said. “Both career fields face high attrition rates and probable injuries during technical training. With the combination of technology, big data and developers, we are confident we can find the best candidates and create better operational warfighters.