What Is Air Force Pararescue Training Hell Night?

The training for pararescue jumpers is intense

An Airman cleans himself off Sept. 6, 2011, during the Air Force Pararescue Indoctrination Course, known as “Hell Week,” at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. During Hell Week, Airmen simulate a real-world mission involving air, ground and water survival. Airmen must complete 62 weeks of training in addition to basic military training to become an Air Force pararescueman.
••• Official U.S. Air Force/Flikr/CC BY 2.0

The  (PJ) is the Air Force's ground special operations combat medic specifically trained to rescue fallen military members in all branches of the service. While many other special operations units note their successes by how many enemy soldiers they kill or capture, the Air Force PJ is trained to primarily save lives.

The Air Force PJ training candidates course at Lackland Air Force Base is a 10-week pararescue indoctrination course where PJ's and combat control technicians start their special ops training pipeline. 

Before the training course is complete, 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. The "extended training day," also known as Hell Night, is a highly intense workout of near-constant moving or discomfort for a solid day and night.

What To Expect in PJ Training

For 20 hours, the instructors push the team of PJ students to their limits both mentally and physically, preparing them for the remaining several months of the pararescue training pipeline. A student and his class will spend the day in and out of the pool performing seemingly endless pushups, flutter kicks, fast swims (both underwater and surface swimming), treading and other water-related skills.

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. It approximates what a day would be like for pararescue specialists, especially those in combat situations. It's intense because it needs to get as close as possible to the chaos of the battlefield.

Sleep Deprivation During Pararescue Training

Sleep deprivation, although not the primary goal of this training, is a significant factor in the process. However, 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.

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 for anyone, regardless of their profession. For these airmen, the goal of this training is to hone their skills so that performing under extreme conditions becomes less challenging.

Training as an Air Force Pararescueman

After completing basic training and Airmen's Week, you'll spend 501 days in technical school at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. That may seem like a long time, but it's a very thorough training program for one of the Air Force's most important roles.

The courses you'll take include:

  • Pararescue indoctrination
  • Airborne (Parachutist)
  • Special Forces combat diver qualification
  •  underwater egress training
  • Special Operations combat medic course
  • Pararescue and recovery apprentice

Water Confidence Drills for Pararescue Training

The PJ trainees undergo water confidence drills in a dark pool, a grueling ruck march, a leadership reaction course with navigation and problem solving, and a 1,750-meter swim in a cold water reservoir.

At the reservoir, students make their way into the cold water with wetsuits in hand. Instructors make the trainees submerse their wetsuits before wearing them. Then it’s the exhausting swim and what seems like a million flutter kicks. 

The students aren't allowed to use their arms; this drill is all flutter-kicking with large SCUBA fins which can wreak havoc on unprepared ankles, feet, and legs.  

Once Hell Night is over, the pararescue trainees have an idea what it's really going to be like if they make it to the end of their training. Not everyone will pass the intense pararescue course; it traditionally has one of the highest washout rates of U.S. military technical training programs.