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Combat control training -- limitless challenges

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Combat control training students must test their physical fitness limits and mental sharpness to complete the combat control operator course in the 334th Training Squadron.

Combat controllers are highly-trained Air Force personnel who complete the same training as all air traffic controllers. Before arriving at Keesler, combat control students have completed the combat control orientation course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, passed the physical ability and stamina test, and completed either the Army's airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., or the Air Force's basic survival school at Fairchild AFB, Wash.

"Keesler is where combat control students get their combat control base," said Tech. Sgt. John Wylie, air traffic control noncommissioned officer in charge. "That's the whole point of this school. Air traffic control is what sets us apart from other battlefield (Air Force specialty codes). We are certified air traffic controllers." 

From 6-8:30 a.m. five days a week, combat control students work on physical fitness to improve endurance and strength. Obstacle courses, weight training and water confidence drills are part of the students' exercise regimen. 

"A typical Monday would include a five-mile run followed by work at the pool for an hour," said Sergeant Wylie. "It's all working toward bettering physical standards, becoming more physically agile and building core strength."

Students complete a series of obstacle courses every Friday morning, in addition to a "ruck," a long foot march carrying full rucksacks. 

"Every down Friday, the students go through the obstacle course twice after a ruck," Sergeant Wylie pointed out. "Figure a five-mile ruck carrying anywhere up to 80 pounds, then they'll run through the obstacle course twice. It's a pretty good smoker that day." 

"The commando crawl is pretty tough," commented Staff Sgt. Yuri Miller, a recent combat control graduate. "There's a 25-foot horizontal rope, and you have to climb across it upside down using arm strength. It's the last obstacle, so you're pretty much hurt at that point. The obstacle by itselfwouldn't be so bad, but you're hurting." 

The training at Keesler for combat control students is physically demanding and mentally challenging, testing each student's limits. 

"(Attrition rates) vary for each team," Sergeant Wylie pointed out. "We lose a few every class -- less than five. It's mostly guys who don't want to be here any more. They can't deal with either the physical or academic standards. About 98 percent of the people that come through can make it if they choose to, but most people relieve themselves." 

"It's not for the faint of heart or weak," said Staff Sgt. Delorean Sheridan, another recent graduate. "Just about any guy will tell you, it's not so much the physical part, but it's the mental thing that will push you through." 

About 180 students complete the combat control operator course at Keesler each year. Sergeant Wylie said Keesler holds eight classes per year for combat control students.
The 15 1/2-week course provides students a base knowledge of skills such as air navigation aids, airport traffic control, communication procedures, radar procedures and aircraft recognition. Classes are held at Cody Hall. 

Aside from academics and physical training, members of each combat control team participate in several team-building exercises. 

"Each team finds its own rock," said Sergeant Wylie. "Basically, we treat the rock like a downed teammate, so (students) know never to forget it. They take it everywhere
with them. If they do forget the rock, it's then replaced with something more strenuous to carry: weights, kettlebells -- it used to be a log -- or dive tanks. We want the students to be aware that there is always something that we need to grab." 

For people interested in cross-training into the combat control career field, specialtactics.com is a Web site that lists preparatory workout routines. The Web site also lists what information may be needed by the military personnel flight, what to expect during survival, evade, resist, escape training, and combat weather. 

"The only regret I've had is not doing combat control sooner," said Staff Sgt. Robert Pate, a recent successful cross-trained graduate.