The first enlisted woman to try to become a special operations weather airman has entered the special warfare training pipeline.
The unidentified woman is the eighth enlisted woman to attempt to become a special warfare airman, Air Education and Training Command spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday said in an email Monday. She has completed the special warfare prep course, but has not yet begun assessment and selection, Holliday said.
The ninth and latest enlisted female special warfare candidate, who hopes to become a tactical air control party airman, began the special warfare prep course March 18. Last month, Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee last month that a female airman was in TACP training and could graduate this spring.
Holliday said that the seventh female enlisted candidate, who was a cross-trainee from another job within the Air Force, attempted to become a pararescue candidate. That aspiring PJ dropped out due to an injury, though she has the option of returning at a later date.
Special operations weather airmen are meteorologists who are specially trained to operate in hostile or denied territory. According to an Air Force fact sheet, they work primarily with special operations forces from the Army and Air Force to collect critical data on weather, oceans, rivers, snow and terrain and then interpret it to help plan missions.
Seven career fields — combat rescue officer, combat control, special tactics officer, pararescue, special operations weather, TACP and air liaison officer — fall into the category of special warfare. Those airmen can operate on their own, or as part of an Air Force, joint, interagency or coalition force, to carry out their combatant commander’s mission. They can operate under austere conditions for extended periods, Holliday said.
Special warfare training programs are designed to simulate the austere combat conditions they may find in the field “and thus are physically, psychologically and emotionally demanding,” Holliday said in the email.
“These men and women are required to perform under the toughest operational and environmental conditions for extended periods of time,” Holliday said. The training courses are designed to progressively ramp up the pressure on candidates to test how well they can adapt and persist beyond their normal endurance limits.
So far, no woman has completed enlisted special warfare training, and Holliday said there is no way to tell when the first one will pass “since every individual is unique.”
“With that said, there is no getting around the fact that meeting the stringent standards to become a special warfare airman is tough for any person, regardless of gender,” Holliday said. “The physical, mental, psychological and motivational requirements … are incredibly challenging. Only a small percentage of those airmen interested in these career fields will be able to meet all of the requirements.”
Kelly also told lawmakers that because of the extremely high standards for special warfare training, “We do not foresee large numbers of females in operational units in the near term.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.