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Air Force Pararescue Training - Hell Night


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

Up at 4:30 a.m. before the roosters even start crowing, pararescue plebes spend the day running, swimming, lifting weights, doing callisthenics, performing details and hitting the books in the classroom. By 9 p.m. that night, most slump into their beds, where they nearly collapse into dreamland as soon as their heads hit the pillow. No need to count sheep.

Then a siren screams. It’s only 9:30 p.m.

Those who were fortunate enough to catch a wink, jump up with a start, hearts seemingly trying to leap from their chests.

The whirring of the siren is followed by an instructor’s tirade through a bullhorn that makes the siren seem like lullaby music in comparison.


It might actually be kind of cool, if indeed, there really was a chopper waiting. Instead, this is the start of what instructors at the 10-week pararescue indoctrination course call an "extended training day."

There’s no rest for the best.

Before it’s all over, 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.

For the next 19 hours the instructors push the team to their limits both mentally and physically, preparing them for the rigors of the pararescue training pipeline.

"It’s the hardest and most stressful experience they will have during the course," says Staff Sgt. Tim Hanks, a pararescue training instructor. 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. Sleep deprivation, although not an aim, is a factor in the process. 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.

"This is the safest place to put them in a stressful situation," Hanks says. "It’s better to do it here in training instead of the field when bullets are flying."

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.

"You will notice the students start to slow down, make mistakes at the littlest task and start to second guess themselves," Hanks said.

This is exactly what the instructors are seeking.

"As an instructor, when I start to see signs of sleep deprivation, I begin to push the trainees together as a team even more," said Hanks, who forces the entire team to re-accomplish a task if one person doesn’t meet the requirements. "By the end of the night, they will have realized they can’t make it through by themselves."

There’s a good reason for that.

Some of the tasks they face after their shocking wake-up call include water confidence drills in a dark pool, a gruelling ruck march, a leadership reaction course with navigation and problem solving, and a 1,750-meter swim in an icy reservoir.

Readers Respond: Reader shares his experience with Pararescue Training - Hell Night

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