Grey Berets: First Airmen Graduate New Special Warfare Training Course

June 21, 2021James R. Webb
Special Reconnaissance

Graduates of the first-ever Special Reconnaissance Apprentice Course donned their grey berets at a ceremony at Pope Army Airfield, N.C., June 17. US Air Force photo by Nicholas J. De La Pena.

Students who completed a new Air Force special operations course became the first to earn the occupational specialty of Special Reconnaissance Airmen in a ceremony on Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, Thursday. 

To broaden its capabilities, the Air Force announced in 2019 it would replace the Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT) occupational field, which was established in 2008, with the new Special Reconnaissance field. 

“Today’s SR graduates are better equipped with unique training to conduct multi-domain reconnaissance and surveillance with an eye towards gaps identified in the Department of Defense’s long range reconnaissance and force projection capabilities,” Maj. Spencer Reed, 352nd Special Warfare Training Squadron commander, said in a release.

air force special reconnaissance
Donning their newly earned grey berets, graduates of the 352nd Special Warfare Training Squadron’s first wave of students from the new Special Reconnaissance Apprentice Course pay their respects at a memorial at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, June 17, 2021. US Air Force photo by Nicholas J. De La Pena, courtesy of DVIDS.

In Afghanistan, SOWT members primarily gathered data on, assessed, and interpreted environmental conditions to forecast how weather might impact air operations and support. But as the Pentagon reorients its focus toward near-peer threats, such as China and Russia, the Air Force is changing its requirements to meet what it views as demands of future battlefields.

“[The change] is one of many steps in a never-ending process to maintain our edge over near-peer competitors,” Senior Master Sgt. Trenton Seegmiller, Air Education and Training Command’s special reconnaissance functional manager, said.

Short-term weather forecasting will remain an important task of SR Airmen, but that portion of training has been truncated. Air Force officials said SOWT members had previously undergone multiple courses at different training locations, which totaled around 215 training days. At 86 training days, the new Special Reconnaissance Apprentice Course (SRAC) reduces training time by 60%.

air force special reconnaissance
A US Air Force Special Tactics operator sets up satellite communications during a full mission profile as part of the beta Special Reconnaissance course near Hurlburt Field, Fla. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rose Gudex.

The new course focuses heavily on clandestine infiltration, reconnaissance and surveillance, demolition, human intelligence gathering, multidomain electronic warfare, long-range precision engagement, target interdiction, small unmanned aircraft systems, and advanced special tactics, according to an Air Force release

Before students attend the SRAC, they undergo nearly a year of some of the toughest courses the military offers. According to the Air Force’s recruiting website, following graduation from the service’s eight-week basic training, SR candidates and others pursuing special operations endure eight weeks of extensive rucking, running, and swimming during the Special Warfare Preparatory Course. A month at Special Warfare Assessment and Selection follows, and from there, candidates go on to a monthlong pre-dive course; five weeks of combat-dive school; three weeks at US Army Airborne school; four weeks at the Military Freefall school; and three weeks of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training. 

A US Air Force Special Tactics operator looks through binoculars to observe a target during a full mission profile as part of a beta Special Reconnaissance course near Hurlburt Field, Fla. The Special Tactics Training Squadron conducted the course to identify specific core tasks required for each skill level of the new SR career field. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rose Gudex.

Even as the new SR Airmen graduate, another six months of Special Tactics Training awaits, according to the Air Force’s recruiting website. In that training, candidates will hone the finer points of the job, such as all-terrain vehicle operations and proficiency with advanced weaponry.

“This ceremony not only celebrates the first organically trained SR Airmen in our wing but in the US Air Force,” Reed said. “I’m incredibly proud.”

Existing SOWT Airmen will transition to the SR specialty through a course that will cover the gaps in their previous training, with a focus on joint operations. 

“This move will modernize the force and bridge a gap across all domains,” Master Sgt. Thomas Howser, special reconnaissance career assistant functional manager, said in the release. “It will allow joint-interoperability across all the services with regard to special reconnaissance.”

grey special reconnaissance
A US Air Force Special Tactics operator fires his weapon during long-range weapons training near Hurlburt Field, Fla., Sept. 20, 2019. US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Robertson.

At their graduation ceremony, the first SRAC graduates donned grey berets signifying their admittance to the ranks of SR. Other Air Force special operations members, such as pararescue jumpers, wear red berets; each color illustrates a specifically trained skillset.

According to the Air Force, the “SR” designator pays tribute to a legend in the Air Force Special Operations community. Lt. Col. William Schroeder, whose operator initials, or call sign, were “SR,” was a career special-operations weather officer and former commander of the 342nd Training Squadron who was fatally wounded April 8, 2016, during a struggle with a gunman targeting the squadron’s first sergeant.

“The new designation is just one way future SR Airmen will remember their roots and the true meaning of service before self,” the Air Force said in a release.

Read Next: Peace in the Clouds: How One of the World’s Deadliest Warriors Found His Zen

James R. Webb
James R. Webb

James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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