Combat Control is one of the most highly decorated jobs in the United States Air Force. Combat Controllers are Special Warfare Operators and their mission is to deploy undetected into hostile combat and austere environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, and special reconnaissance.
To forge a Combat Controller, the USAF puts their candidates through a 2-3-year forging process known as the “pipeline”. This pipeline is designed to test and challenge each trainee as they progress through the course, not only physically but mentally as well. As a CCT, you’re expected to be able to shoot, move and communicate with the best as they are usually attached to Special Forces Green Beret Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) or SEAL platoons.
A Combat Controller also possess the same infiltration techniques as their sister service counterparts such as Static Line parachuting, High Altitude Low/High Opening, SCUBA and closed-circuit diving.
Once the team has “gotten to work”, a Combat Controller must have the physical strength and stamina to keep up with the team even though the CCT’s are always carrying a heavier ruck containing the biggest gun of them all, a radio and all the batteries to go with it!
It takes a special kind of person to endure what is “the pipeline”, and surviving it just isn’t enough and quite frankly won’t cut it. I’m going to give you the top 5 things you can do to prepare yourself for the Combat Control pipeline to not only get through it, but to do so competitively!
1.) Be a Push-up MONSTER
The push-up seems to be the go-to exercise for any and all Military units out there and is included in EVERY PT test the Military has. What makes this exercise a tool for improving morale or correcting mistakes is found within the science of the push-up.
The push-up not only works your chest, triceps and deltoids but it also works a number of stabilizer muscles as well. This means the push-up is quite taxing on your body and can inflict the most amount of stress on a candidate when performing the exercise.
An average day in a CCT cadre proctored course, you can expect to do HUNDREDS of reps a day! The most you will do in an unbroken set is 50, but our friend Murphy will make sure that someone will inevitably screw up and the count will be 0! Why is this a tip?
Remember the point is to not survive, but rather be competitive. If your max number of push-ups is 50 but by the 30th rep you have to put your pelvis in the dirt, you aren’t competing! In fact, you’re just surviving, and you will be the reason your team is returned to 0. So be a Push-up monster! Strive to complete 75-100 reps of push-ups with strict form.
2.) Be confident in the water
The fact that every Combat Controller is a combat diver, you will spend each and every day in the pool preparing yourself for the Air Force Combat Diver Course. You will either swim using the freestyle stroke, or you will fin using the lead arm/trail arm technique.
Nonetheless, your technique will pay dividends when hammering out a grueling water confidence session and can make a world of difference in preserving some energy when slicing through the water effectively and efficiently. Learn to hold your breath for up to 3 minutes at a time!
Being able to hold your breath will equip you with the confidence and capability of completing the vast majority of water confidence events with “ease” when compared to your peers who try and just tough it out! Long breath holds will come in handy when doing events such as buddy breathing, mask and snorkel recovery, ditch and dons or knot tying.
To tie it all together (no pun intended) for this tip of being confident in the water, it is imperative that you know how to effectively tread water! The technique of choice for most CCT studs is the eggbeater.
This form uses little energy and is the most efficient when needing to tread water for a long time because it is all legs and uses pivot motions of the feet, knees and hips to provide downward thrust.
3.) Put miles on your shoes
Running is a huge part of the pipeline. Like calisthenics and swimming, you will also be doing this every day! In fact, you’re prohibited from walking anywhere!
If you want to be competitive when going through the pipeline, you must have bulletproofed cardiovascular endurance! The 1.5 mile run you do for the P.A.S.T is what is required for entrance into the pipeline however, to graduate you must now complete 3 miles in 21:21 minutes, just before a 1500m swim.
You must strive to exceed the standard mile wise! Be able to run 6 miles or 10 miles and strive to beat your times each and every time you lace up your running shoes. Here’s the reality, when going through the pipeline you may not run in a formation for 6 miles at a 7 min pace, but the team will inevitably get “dropped” for multiple sets of calisthenics, grass and gorilla drills or whatever cadres wicked mind can conjure up in the seconds preceding your teams inevitable payment to the man.
A few minutes later, cadre will recover the whole team and then take off in a full sprint, jacking up your heart rate as the team frantically attempts to close the gap between them and the cadre leading out the run, all while carrying a pool bag filled with their swim gear or “the rock” which is a 20-30 pound rock that is a representation of fallen teammates and belongs in no other place in the formation other than in the front of the pack carried on the shoulders of the CCT trainee who has the honor of holding it.
So run, run and run some more and while you’re running, stop periodically and do a max set of push-ups or any other calisthenic exercise your motivated heart can muster up. This leads me into the next point, strive to be a triathlete!
4.) Be a triathlete
Each and every day for 2-3 years, you as a CCT trainee will run, swim, ruck, run and do calisthenics and not necessarily in that order. Nonetheless the pipeline is filled with these types of workouts, and the earlier you can adapt to the workload, the better off you will be when it happens for real during the pipeline.
The last thing you want to do, is survive a calisthenics session just to find yourself double timing on a run and now you’re behind the pack because you’re too smoked to keep up. Work on your endurance and adopt a multi-faceted training program to help you build upon the three biggest pillars of a CCT pipeline school. These are calisthenics, running and swimming!
This may seem like a lot, and for most people who try out, it is! A person can most certainly rise up and overcome this long and arduous pipeline with this last and final tip!
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! This is the same way you MUST look at the CCT pipeline. It’s all about state of mind and attitude! One thing I used to ask myself before I began the pipeline, was how the hell it was possible for guys to do 200 push-ups in one sitting and sometime later come back for more?
After all, I’m only able to complete about 70 push-ups and then I’m spent! It wasn’t until my first smoke session that this question was answered! The individuals who made up the team, were all knocking out the set of push-ups to their own cadence and resting when they needed it, even though the majority of the team was still pushing.
This would inevitably force the cadre to start us over at 0. After about the third or fourth restart, fatigue sets in and now everyone is pushing to their own cadence and further prolonging the exercise in reps and in time! This kind of perceived never ending torment, is what gets guys in their own heads.
They begin to believe that they aren’t strong enough, that they can’t go on for the next 2-3 years surviving the smoke sessions and dreading the next one that is coming any minute.
This mentality plays on the fight or flight response in a man, whether it be sucking during a calisthenic session or almost drowning in the pool, this reality forces you to realize that it’s only going to get worse as time goes on and you can stop the pain right now or prevent more pain tomorrow morning by quitting.
This is 100% the wrong way to eat this elephant! To effectively crush that smoke session, each individual needs to focus on the task at hand and approach it by setting a target number of reps at a time. This means that each individual is putting out for the team for X amount of reps for X amount of time.
We all push, and we all rest at the exact same time, as a team! Each man does his part, and the team slowly chips away at the enormous task piece by piece. This translates to how your attitude can affect you staying and performing versus surviving and potentially quitting.
So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! How do you survive a smoke session? One evolution at a time down to one rep at a time! How do you get through the pipeline? One school at a time!
To start building your foundations for success in the pipeline, click here, take the quiz and see what tier of athlete you are.