Nathan got home very early Wednesday morning from 9 days in New Mexico where he graduated from the National Cadet Special Activity called "PJOC", which is a pararescue orientation course run by actual Air Force pararescuemen and SERE (survival) specialists. These are part of the "Guardian Angel" weapon system, which is a large part of the Air Force special forces. Nathan was very impressed with all the pararescuemen he was involved with. He can't give a totally detailed breakdown of the course because part of the idea of it is pushing you beyond your physical and mental limits, and they don't want anyone going into it with too much outside knowledge about the specifics of what they are going to have you do. For example, the cadets had to do a run of unknown distance. Now Nathan knows about how long it was, but the idea was no one knew at the time, so they didn't know how to budget their strength. And not everyone made it, either. If you stopped running, you got picked up by the van and didn't have a chance to finish.
Nathan felt like he was well-prepared, physically. They did a ton of push-ups, lots of running, some swimming, and various other (painful) exercises. They also hiked all over the place. They weren't actually on Kirtland AFB--they were in the national forest a few hours away. Nathan lost 5 pounds over the course of the week. They were given 2 MREs a day--one for breakfast at 5:00 AM, and another for dinner at 10:00 PM. The rest of the day, they subsisted on the snackier parts of the MREs that they saved and carried in their packs. Nathan had always wanted to try MREs, and now he's had his fill of them this summer, LOL. They weren't allowed to heat them up, so they ate them all as they were, which definitely made some of the entrees better than others!
In the months leading up to the start of the course, they sent Nathan a fitness plan to complete, and Nathan was faithful to do that. Like I said, Nathan felt prepared physically, but he felt the most important thing was to prepare mentally to challenge himself and go beyond what he thought he was capable of.
Another thing that was tested during the course was an ability to tie different knots. Again, the PJOC people had sent out some links before the course so you could start working on them. They said in the email that one reason people could potentially not graduate was not passing the knots portion.
A lot of the course was survival training. They slept in shelters they made themselves, and learned other survival skills. Teamwork was also really emphasized. Nathan felt like he really bonded with all the other cadets. There were 65 cadets there total. The instructors were "squared-away", Nathan said. They really helped everyone complete the challenges and go beyond what they thought they could do. They were not "nice, fun people" until the end, but you could understand why they were so intense. They have so much on the line in their profession.
So Nathan had a really great time. He came back totally exhausted, but having learned a lot that will definitely help him deal with life.
He did have a bit of an adventure on the way home though. He was woken up early Tuesday morning (4:00 AM!) by a recorded phone call from the airlines saying his flight, which was supposed to leave at 9:00 AM, had been delayed until 1:00 PM. There were several other cadets on that flight to Dallas, and after waiting at the airport for awhile, many of them got put on other flights, but not Nathan and one other buddy. They became very familiar with the Albuquerque airport! Eventually Nathan flew out at 7:24 to Dallas. When he arrived there, he had to get from the A terminal over to the C terminal for his connection to home. My brother was also coincidentally flying out of the Dallas airport that night, to meet the rest of his family who were visiting other family in CA. His gate happened to be right next to Nathan's gate!! Isn't that amazing?! So Nathan got to catch up for a few minutes with Uncle Dan before boarding the plane for home! He eventually made it here at 12:30 AM. We were really thankful his suitcase made it too--it was the absolute last one onto the conveyer belt, so we were getting worried! Nathan slept in Wednesday morning, had a very informative lunch meeting with Christine's brother, who gave him, Isaac, and Caleb some career planning advice, and then fell asleep on the couch once he got back home for another 5 hours. I think he has finally recovered, now that it has been several days!