US Air Force Combat Controllers are among the most elite special forces in the world. Their training lasts approximately 24 months and the attrition rate averages 75%. Their job is essentially to enter an enemy controlled area before anyone else in the US military does, and provide air traffic coordination, communications and painting targets for the air force and other special operations units. They will also play a role in counter-terrorism, hostage rescue and combat search and rescue operations.

Clearly, these types of individuals have an elite form of fitness, mental toughness and soldiering skills. The US Air Force recently conducted a physical survey to determine what qualities a trainee should possess to maximize their chances of successfully completing the course. They selected 109 men who had already completed the first 12 months of training. They determined VO2max using a treadmill protocol, anaerobic power using the Wingate and vertical jump protocols, body composition using skin fold, reaction time using had-eye coordination test, and a psychological survey.

They found that the average candidate who completed all 24 months of training was 1.8m (5’11”), 81kg (178lb), 12% body fat, with a VO2max of 59ml/kg/min, vertical jump of 62cm. Their Wingate results showed 11.4W/kg peak and 9.3W/kg mean power output. The hand-eye exam showed slightly faster than average reaction times at 0.57secs but with normal accuracy of 0.61. On the psychological exam, successful candidates scored high on mental toughness, extraversion and conscientiousness, with low levels of neuroticism. In their history of the candidates, it was found that 36% had participated in high school football, 22% in track and field, and 17% had played baseball or wrestled. This goes back to the idea of developing multiple sports skills to maximize the chance of achieving excellence later on.

So the ideal candidate for starting AFCC training is relatively lean, has a very high VO2max, can generate high volumes of power and has faster than average reaction time with a background in sport. Their psychological profile allows them to endure hardship in a variety of situations and come up with solutions quickly. Hopefully, this data will allow candidates who are more likely to make it through to be selected for this arduous program.