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Report: Female Air Force spec ops trainee questioned lowered standards

U.S. Air Force Special Tactics operators provide security for an MC-130J Commando II transport aircraft at Melrose Air Force Range, NM. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff. Sgt Ridge Shan)
January 14, 2022

A female U.S. Air Force captain, who was the subject of an anonymous letter claiming she received preferential treatment during an Air Force special tactics training course, reportedly raised her own questions about whether standards had been lowered for her.

Performance forms, score charts, and a report the woman authored after dropping out of the special tactics course all indicate physical training standards were lowered prior to her arrival at the course, Air Force Times first reported on Thursday.

According to a score sheet obtained by Air Force Times, the female captain passed the initial physical fitness test for the special warfare assessment and selection course in January of 2020, but when she proceeded to Combat Control School — regarded as the most challenging part of the special tactics course — the fitness standards appeared to have been lowered.

Air Force Times reported that, according to her score sheet, the woman would have failed if she had been held to the course criteria used prior to her arrival. In an April 2021 memo, the woman herself indicated she was aware of the shifting standards.

While she passed by the new standards, the changes appeared to have been so recent that her scores from a March 2021 test, which included a deadlift element, were still marked as a failure on an electronic record.

“[Teammates] knew the [standard] was at one point 300 pounds for the deadlift. During the test, we were not told any standards, and I lifted 250 pounds,” she wrote in April. “Since I passed, they believed the standards had been bent for me.”

The woman, at the time, considered the issue to be an incident of poor communication. She wrote that any changes to physical fitness standards should be widely published ahead of time and service members should be given adequate time to train to those standards.

“If a person can meet the standard of a job,” she wrote, “they should be allowed to do the job.”

Still, the female captain wrote that the decision to change the standards “invalidated me with a majority of my team.”

“Perhaps all of this timing was coincidental, but looks highly suspicious with my arrival on campus,” she wrote.

She wrote that the change in standards and the perception it created had an influence on her desire to quit the course.

“Had I chosen to continue, I would be responsible for leading these men,” she wrote. “Any bias that is created and supported by people in positions of authority would make it difficult for me to lead them.”

She wrote that multiple trainees told her course instructors did not want her to graduate the course and one told her that a trainer openly discussed his disdain for her in front of an entire team of trainees.

The female captain’s April memo did not mention any pressure by instructors for her to “self-eliminate.” The anonymous letter had claimed the female captain tried to self-eliminate on three occasions: twice during pool training and again during a land-navigation event.

According to Air Force Times, a decision to self-eliminate has long meant an airman’s chance to join Air Force special tactics is over, but documents suggest that was not the case for this female captain when she chose to self-eliminate.

Air Force Times reviewed four instances of airmen who self-eliminated during various portions of the special tactics course, including two who quit during rucksack marches, one who dropped out during psychological stress testing, and another during land navigation. All four were reclassified into other jobs, with none receiving a recommendation to try again in the special tactics course. By comparison, the female captain’s records indicate she did receive a recommendation to try again in the course and she is expected to return for another try this April.

One course instructor who spoke to Air Force Times on condition of anonymity also said the female captain tried to self-eliminate twice during the pool training but was allowed to continue over the objections of the course instructors.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), a U.S. Navy SEAL veteran, highlighted the controversial case last week when he shared a copy of the anonymous letter on social media.

In response to an American Military News request for comment, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) commander Lt. Gen. James Slife said “We can unequivocally say the standards—which are tied to mission accomplishment—have not changed” and said the anonymous letter is “either factually incorrect or missing important context which would completely change the perception.”

Air Force Times reported it reached out to AFSOC for comment on the new information. AFSOC referred the questions to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), which manages the special tactics training pipeline. AETC spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday then said the command would not respond to the questions.

On Jan. 8, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall directed the Air Force Inspector General to investigate the allegations. Kendall ordered the investigation a day after Slife authored a memo requesting the review.