The United States Air Force exists to fly, fight and win – providing airpower anytime, anywhere. In order for the Air Force to provide air superiority in all of its operational theaters, all members of the service must be healthy enough to carry out their duties and proficient in those responsibilities.
The 350,000 airmen of the U.S. Air Force are cared for by the specially trained healthcare providers of the U.S. Air Force Medical Service. These specially trained physicians, nurses, and medical technicians provide operational medical support, medical readiness, and medical oversight to ensure the personnel engaged in mission critical jobs throughout the Air Force are strong and healthy enough to carry out their duties when they’re needed the most.
Many applicants every year enlist in the United States Armed Forces with the hopes of joining the elite medical professionals within the military. However, many of those have no idea how or where to begin.
In order to learn how to become a paramedic in the Air Force, let’s first begin discussing a few important requirements candidates need to meet.
Becoming a U.S. Airman
In order to become a healthcare provider in the U.S. Air Force, a candidate will first meet with a recruiter at any number of recruiting stations around the country. Here, candidates will be evaluated and screened for eligibility for enlistment. Requirements generally include a high school diploma or GED, age 17 years or older, and a passing score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (also known as the ASVAB).
Once screened eligible, candidates will be processed at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) where they will be evaluated by physicians for medical clearance and, if approved, sign their enlistment contract and swear into the military. The entire process can take anywhere from a few days to even months to complete, depending on circumstances.
While at MEPS, the candidate will select their job in the Air Force with the career counselor. The Air Force has two methods of job selection: guaranteed job and guaranteed aptitude area. In the Guaranteed Job Program, the specific job is guaranteed in the enlistment contract. That doesn’t mean that circumstances cannot arise that would invalidate the guarantee, however.
The list of guaranteed jobs is limited as a majority of them are retained for selection by airmen already in basic training that enlisted under the guaranteed aptitude area program. In the Guaranteed Aptitude Area Program, airmen will qualify for and select a category of jobs. Then, once in basic training they will be permitted to select an available job from within that career field category.
Basic Military Training (BMT) for the U.S. Air Force is conducted at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in San Antonio, Texas. All newly enlisted airmen complete BMT, an eight-and-a-half-week indoctrination into the U.S. Air Force. This training program is physically and mentally intense to prepare the civilian inductee for their future as a United States Airman.
Becoming a Paramedic in the U.S. Air Force
After successful completion of Basic Military Training, airmen that were assigned the Air Force Specialty Code 4N0X1 (Aerospace Medical Services Specialist) will attend 98 days of technical training at the Medical Education and Training Campus located at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Graduates of this program are eligible to obtain certification as an emergency medical technician with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.
During this training, airmen will learn the critical components of the civilian EMT curriculum in addition to preventative care, primary care, and in-depth trauma care topics to prepare the airmen for the diverse areas of practice he or she will encounter as an aerospace medical services specialist in the U.S. Air Force.
However, this training does not qualify airmen as “paramedics” even though the scope of practice in the Air Force for this level of training does, in fact, exceed the emergency medical technician scope of practice for their civilian counterparts. In order for these airmen to become paramedics, they must obtain a Special Experience Identifier.
Aerospace Medical Services Specialists that apply and are selected for the paramedic special experience identifier will be reassigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona for an accelerated paramedic education program at Pima College Public Safety and Emergency Services Institute. This program meets the same standards as any other CoAEMSP accredited paramedic program. But, instead of the traditional eighteen-month schedule with two or three, four-hour, class sessions a week – these airmen attend class eight hours a day, six days a week for four months straight.
Paramedic school at the average pace is an incredible feat for most students. The standard paramedic program lasts between eighteen months and two years. Paramedic school is often referred to as the most challenging vocational program and that’s under normal circumstances.
Candidates preparing for this accelerated program should have a strong understanding of anatomy and physiology, cellular biology, and biochemistry prior to training. Additionally, preparing for the cardiology modules early will be of significant benefit as the paramedic curriculum heavily stresses advanced knowledge of cardiology including interpretive electrocardiography, diagnostic electrocardiography, and cardiac emergency management along with respiratory emergency management.
Practice as an Aerospace Medical Services Specialist in the U.S. Air Force can take multiple forms. These include practicing as a traditional pre-hospital care provider working an ambulance on an Air Force installation, providing care in a military treatment facility on a number of Air Force and other military installations around the world, or in theater providing combat medical support to fighting service members.
Becoming a Flight Paramedic in the Air Force
Contrary to their civilian counterparts, Aerospace Medical Services Specialists do not necessarily have to be certified paramedics in order to function as part of an aeromedical evacuation team. However, to become qualified in Aeromedical Evacuation, airmen will have to obtain a special experience identifier.
Advanced training for aerospace evacuation is conducted at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This training is approximately one month long and covers configuration of aircraft for evacuation operations and how to function in an airborne environment.
This training culminates in a final check ride where candidates must successfully demonstrate the skills learned in the training in a live environment under the immediate supervision of qualified cadre.
Aeromedical evacuation operations include inter-facility transportation of U.S. servicemen and women from OCONUS (outside the continental United States) to CONUS (continental United States) military hospitals. These missions can include transportation of, up to, thirty service members at a time under the care of nurses and medics.
There are additional opportunities for more critical care aviation medicine in the Air Force, however these opportunities are for physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Currently, the Air Force does not utilize paramedic credentialed airmen to join Critical Care Air Transport Teams (CCATTs).
U.S. Air Force Pararescue Specialists
As members of the special warfare community, Air Force pararescue specialists rescue and provide medical treatment to downed military personnel. It is one of the most rigorous selections processes a service member will complete.
Pararescue specialists – or PJs – are the elite search and rescue operators. These specially trained Air Force combat paramedics are the careful intersection of special warfare tactics and the cutting edge of trauma and austere environment medicine.
These talented operators are responsible for the safe extraction of military personnel that are stranded inside enemy territory. PJ’s operate out of units assigned exclusively in the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, and Japan.
As with all airmen, candidates will successfully complete their 8-week basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, TX. But this is only the very first step in a long algorithm that will determine if an airman is cut out for the austere and chaotic environment where PJs are called to serve.
Following BMT, candidates will attend the Special Warfare Preparatory Course. This course is another 8-week evolution at Lackland Air Force Base. Here, candidates’ mettle is tested through intense strength conditioning training and also learn about the rich history of Special Warfare in the U.S. Air Force. This training will culminate in the Physical Ability and Stamina Test. A passing score is required to continue the process.
Air Force Special Warfare Assessment and Selection occurs in two phases at Lackland Air Force Base, TX. It is four weeks long. During the field phase, candidates can expect to be in a field like setting, sleeping in tents and on cots with sleeping bags. This training will include a water confidence course and extensive physical training. Selection phase includes testing, surveys, critiques, and interviews with the candidates. During selection phase, candidates will be given specific job titles – these can include Pararescue, Combat Control, or Special Recon.
Once selected for an Air Force Special Warfare job, including Pararescue, candidates are then assigned to the Special Warfare Pre-Dive Course. This course prepares candidates physically and mentally for the challenges of combat dive school. This course will take four weeks to complete and will mark the end of the candidates training at Lackland Air Force Base.
Becoming an expert diver is imperative to the PJ’s mission of rendering medical aid whenever, wherever. To do this, candidates attend the Special Warfare Combat Dive Course at Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida. This course lasts five weeks and will build on the lessons learned during the pre-dive course.
Diving is not the only unique skill Air Force special warfare operators must master to be successful. Following Dive School, candidates will attend the U.S.
Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Here, candidates will learn basic parachuting and prepare for a static line jump. This training is necessary to provide ample ingress options for PJ’s needing to enter a combat zone to save and recover American casualties in theater.
Building off of the Airborne program at Ft. Benning, candidates will continue on to Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, to complete the Military Free-Fall Parachute Course. This training includes high-altitude, low-opening and high-altitude, high-opening jumps from altitudes of 10,000 to 25,000 feet.
Given the nature of the mission that pararescue specialists are sent to do and the environments they must work in, SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training is an absolute necessity. This training may very likely one day save their lives. So, for three weeks at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, candidates will learn how to survive behind enemy lines, evade detection, resist capture, and escape in the unfortunate event they become prisoners.
The next phase of training for the PJ includes a seven-week EMT course followed by a thirty-week Paramedic course held at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. After all, the primary mission of the pararescue specialist is to evacuate downed military personnel and provide medical care during the evacuation. At the completion of this training, these PJ candidates will be certified and licensed paramedics.
Finally, PJ candidates will complete an additional twenty-two weeks at the Pararescue Apprentice Course at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. Here, candidates will apply their combat and medical training under pressure to ensure their adequate preparation for operations in hostile remote areas of our world.
To learn more on how to become a paramedic in the Air Force–specifically more information on U.S. Air Force Pararescue, be sure to watch the video below:
Independent Duty Medical Technician
Operating at the pinnacle of Air Force medicine, independent duty medics receive advanced medical education to prepare them to operate in austere and remote assignments where there is no assigned medical officer or physician. The IDMT is knowledgeable in dentistry, pharmacy, labs, diagnostic imaging, public health, and patient assessment and is the only enlisted healthcare provider who is authorized to provide care in the absence of a licensed healthcare provider (physician, physician assistant, and/or nurse practitioner).
The IDMT must be a medical technician for four years prior to application to the IDMT program and will, then, attend 517 hours of training at the Medical Education and Training Campus located at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.
The course of instruction includes obtaining medical histories, examining, assessing, treating and documenting patient care encounters, training in emergency medical, dental, and surgical procedures to stabilize patient condition until evacuation for definitive care can occur. Upon completion, the graduate IDMT is registered in the National Provider Index.
While IDMT’s are designed for use in deployment settings, the Air Force has found other, mostly remote, areas which their expertise significantly contributes to mission readiness. One of those such activities is Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado.
Deployments as an Air Force Medic
While deployed, medics are responsible for medical readiness of deployed troops and emergency/trauma medicine for troops that become ill or injured during their tour of duty. Additionally, military medical personnel may also provide critical medical support to humanitarian missions like Operation Allies Welcome which involved the evacuation of at-risk Afghan nationals to the United States after the U.S. military withdraw from the region.
Typical military deployments last between six and twelve months, however depending on the service member’s unit and military occupation, these deployments can be longer or shorter. Air Force personnel are generally assigned to larger military installations abroad to support air superiority operations in theater.
Post-Military Career Prospects
Given an airmen’s unique training and experiences, options for the airmen after leaving the military are wide open. While the normal positions for emergency medical technicians and paramedics in emergency medical services are certainly an option, military medics have a much wider opportunity.
Some of these opportunities include disaster response and field hospital opportunities, especially as the COVID pandemic continues to obliterate healthcare resources around the world.
Other, unique opportunities to previous military medics with extensive combat experience and/or special forces medical training, include OCONUS deployments in support of continuing military and diplomatic missions with government contractors in austere environments throughout the world. These assignments are especially lucrative also – which attracts a significant amount of competition for the few positions that are advertised every year.
Civilian Paramedic Opportunities with the Air Force
While a majority of the unique and interesting medical operations within the Air Force including international deployments, austere environment practice, and independent duty assignments are restricted to airmen that are enlisted members of the United States Air Force, there are opportunities for civilians with the right qualifications to fill civil service positions for healthcare providers.
These positions are advertised on the federal government’s only recruiting platform, called USAJobs. Qualifications vary based on location and specific function but almost all will require certification from the National Registry of EMT’s and license to practice in the state the installation resides in, ability to pass a public trust background investigation, and no history of significant criminal convictions.
These positions are typically at the GS-5 thru GS-11 pay grades which equates to $30,414 to $55,756 per year starting out and caps out at $39,540 to $72,487 per year after twenty years of service. Many of these positions are also combined with firefighting responsibilities as can be commonly found elsewhere in the civilian workforce.
Federal civil service employees also enjoy annual cost-of-living adjustments to their wages as well as robust fringe benefits including health, dental, and vision insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, Federal Employee Retirement System, and a thrift savings plan.
Whether you are a person that is looking for the exciting life of an Air Force PJ or looking for the experience that comes with a successful enlistment as a medic in the military, or even an experienced healthcare provider with a passion for providing care to the men and women of the world’s greatest airborne fighting force – there is an avenue for you.
Of the many benefits provided by military service, all of the training and certification examinations associated with becoming a paramedic are paid for by the Air Force. Additionally, service members are compensated for the time in training unlike their civilian counterparts. While this paid training is repaid with guaranteed years of service by the airman, the airmen certainly get the better end of the deal by far.
And as the U.S. Space Force continues to grow out of its Air Force brethren, we can easily expect that advanced space medicine research and operational roles will soon become necessary for our military. The sky truly is the limit!
For civilians, whether at the beginning of their healthcare career or the end, the U.S. Air Force Civilian Service has opportunities to provide medical support to airmen and their families while being compensated well for their experience and role in our national security.
Once in the civil service of the federal government, the opportunities are endless in the event the provider decides to change career paths or acquires additional credentials in or outside of healthcare.
Additional information on joining the United States Air Force can be found at the Air Force Recruiting website.
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