Combat Rescue Officers ready for field

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Connie L. Bias
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Nineteen men began their Sunday morning Oct. 21 with a three-mile run and 1500-meter swim. The intensive physical training test set the stage for six days of grueling workouts and evaluations - so demanding, in fact, that by Friday only eight men were left.

Those eight men have completed a major step on their roads to becoming Combat Rescue Officers. As the newest selectees of Air Combat Command's Combat Rescue Officer selection program, hosted by Air Mobility Command, Fairchild and the 336th Training Group two times every year, the men will go on to compete in a board competition for final CRO training, which lasts more than a year. As CROs, they'll be fully trained to save lives and lead other life-savers.

"They're prepared, number one, to lead combat operations as direct combatant commanders," said Capt. Chad Sterr, CRO selection program manager. "These officers actually command the recovery teams on the ground."

Reaching this prestigious position is no easy task. Phase I of the selection program is an application packet with eight separate sections. Applicants create their packages, send them to Captain Sterr, and wait for a board decision. The board, made up of CROs and one non-CRO colonel, scores each packet and invites the applicants in the top 20 to 25 percent, depending on total force requirements, to attend Phase II. Selectees are notified about two months before their Phase II program begins.

Phase II is the part that takes place at Fairchild - the part many candidates don't complete. During the week, students complete constant physical, mental and psychological evaluations on a "crawl, walk, run" schedule, said Captain Sterr. By the time students reach the "run" phase, they may be running, but they're beyond exhausted.

"On their extended training day, Wednesday, they're up at about 5 a.m. to eat breakfast at 5:30 a.m., and meet us at 7:30 a.m.," said the captain. "They're with us training and testing all day, and at the end of the day they'll get a break for about three hours. Then we call them back; we have a recall, and they're with us until about 2 a.m. It's a really, really long day; they're very tired."

That overwhelming exhaustion is exactly the point. Sleep deprivation, extreme fatigue and incessant stress are exactly what these officers will face in the field, and their selection process simulates this field environment as much as possible. The program also forces the students to depend upon each other, another skill that will be critical in a real-world environment.

"The program really gave us a taste of what we can expect," said Capt. Seth Davis, new CRO and 99th Security Support Squadron personnel manpower officer at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Captain Davis is prior-enlisted Army, and has been working toward his dream of becoming a CRO for a number of years. "We're taught to do things like find a downed pilot or personnel, put them on a stretcher and carry them out of danger. You can't complete these missions by yourself - it's all about teamwork."

For the officers, it's also about credibility, about knowing through personal experience what their subordinates are doing and going through.

"Their men identify with them," said Captain Sterr, "so the guys in the field can look at their commander and know he's not going to quit them, and the commander can look at his men and know they're also not going to quit. And the bonds you build ... they'll last a lifetime."

So what about the candidates who didn't finish the program?

"There are three ways to leave this program as a candidate," said Captain Sterr. "First is medical. Second is, you quit, and those guys will go out, lead men and be even better because of their experience here. The third group of people who don't make it through the week are the ones who just weren't ready for this and don't move forward in the week - they don't make it, but they don't quit. Those are the guys we can ask to come back; anyone who doesn't quit can go through the program twice."

The eight CRO selectees are:
Navy Enson Brian Carey
Capt. Seth Davis
2nd Lt. Peter Dyrud
Capt. Gabriel Hensley
1st Lt. Ronnie Maloney
1st Lt. Nicholas Morgans
Senior Airman Ryan Ruddy
Cadet Keith Speers