No More ‘BEAST Week’ as Air Force Reworks Boot Camp Field Training for New Recruits

BEAST week Air Force basic training

Air Force basic training trainees will face a revamped final field exercise, known as PACER FORGE, replacing the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, or BEAST. US Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong.

US Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong.

After two decades as the final, down-and-dirty event of Air Force boot camp, the BEAST week is being retired.

Taking its place as the final gauntlet for new recruits — though not on the pantheon of great military acronyms — will be a similar but reworked field event the Air Force is calling PACER FORGE.

Launched in 1999 as “Warrior Week,” the BEAST — or Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training — was expanded in 2004 as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began putting Air Force troops in austere bases for long rotations. After five weeks of academics and traditional boot camp chores, recruits left behind their barracks and drill pads for a week of field events, which included obstacle courses, weapons and chemical training, teamwork exercises, and basic medical training.

More than 20 years later, nearly every member of the service’s enlisted force, outside of the most senior NCOs, is a BEAST week alum.

BEAST week Air Force basic training

US Air Force basic training trainees practice combative application techniques during Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, or BEAST, April 23, 2019, at Joint Base San Antonio-Medina Annex. US Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong.

US Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong.

PACER FORGE, according to an Air Force press release, stands for Primary Agile Combat Employment Range, Forward Operations Readiness Generation Exercise.

Like the BEAST, the new PACER FORGE is modeled on airmen “deploying” to an austere location. But in the 36-hour event, Air Force officials said in a press release, the recruits will face scenarios that mirror the Air Force’s force generation process, which it calls Agile Combat Employment.

Under current Air Force doctrine, units will be asked to deploy in smaller, dispersed teams to smaller forward bases, rather than as large units occupying central, established bases. Once in place, airmen will be expected to play a wide range of roles outside of the basic job.

Air Force BMT Graduation

Chief Master Sgt. Hope L. Skibitsky, 737th Training Group and Air Force Basic Military Training superintendent, leads an all female military training instructor mass during a BMT graduation March 9, 2018, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. The formation was to honor National Women’s History Month. US Air Force photo by Ismael Ortega.

US Air Force photo by Ismael Ortega.

PACER FORGE will be a 36-hour exercise, the Air Force said, in which both recruits and their drill instructors — the Air Force calls them military training instructors, or MTIs — “deploy” to the former BEAST site, where they will be organized into smaller teams. Once on site, the recruits will face scenarios based on information seeking, teamwork, and decision making, officials said.

The roles of MTIs will change in the exercise as well, officials said, to a “mentorship and facilitation role, versus giving direction and instruction.”

The new training will be the first chance for recruits to begin to use the skills taught at boot camp, according to Col. Jeff Pixley, the commander of the 737th Training Group, which runs the Air Force’s basic military training, or BMT.

“The most important thing we do at BMT is plant the seeds of personal discipline, wingmanship, teamwork, and embrace our core values,” Pixley said. “We are providing basic trainees with their first opportunity to put their teamwork, discipline, and problem-solving skills to the test in a scenario-based deployment that is physically demanding and based on real-world operations.”

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Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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