Air Force could relocate elite parajumper school at Kirtland

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE)- The best of the best, and then some. Kirtland says there's no other training squadron that better exemplifies the pararjumper's contribution to national security. Yet, a new Air Force initiative could end their decades-long run at Kirtland.

It's ingrained in their minds-- their creed. They live by it, and they've been learning how at Kirtland for the last 40 years.

They belong to the 351st. It trains the Air Force's parajumpers. They're the highly skilled men and women equipped to rescue and save lives in just about any situation or environment - on a cliffside or at sea, in the midst of a firefight. Many consider them one of the military's most valuable assets since they're vital during peace time, at war, at home and abroad.

Parajumpers recently teamed up with another Kirtland squadron to rescue stranded hikers near Durango, yet they're also training for the challenges in Afghanistan. New Mexico offers prime conditions for it, conditions that aren't available anywhere else. Here you'll find wide, open spaces, mountains, deserts, a sparse population and ideal flying conditions.

"Obviously, we are very proud to have them at Kirtland," said Kirtland Air Force Base Spokesperson James Fisher.

Obvious, perhaps, for those who know about the programs at 90% washout rate, their longer, two-year training program or that it's the most highly decorated career field.

Yet, New Mexico may not be the 351st's home for much longer. The Air Force announced, in June, it's considering consolidating their six battlefield training squadrons, due to a need for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

"Having these specialties co-located so they could share facilities, expertise, instructors," explained Fisher.

Now, officials are waiting on the results of a new study before they decide whether to put them all in one place and if so, where. There's a list of options, already, but Kirtland's not on it.

Fisher says the base wants what's best for the Air Force, but admits losing the PJ School would be a tough blow.

"What they bring while they're on active duty here or even after, when they just become retired members of the Albuquerque community, I think that's hard to measure. It's very valuable to us...We'd like to see it continue in perpetuity," Fisher explained.

At it stands now, battlefield airmen must do a lot of traveling to train. That includes parajumpers. Courses are held all over the country, from Cocoa Beach, Florida to Philadelphia and Spokane, Washington.

The Air Force expects to have more information to release early next year. Reps with the Secretary of the Air Force say they plan to include the public in the process.


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