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Special warfare trainees perform flutter kicks at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in 2021. The wing is scheduled to finish construction of facilities next year that will include mixed-sex dorms and bathrooms, which Air Force officials say will foster inclusiveness.

Special warfare trainees perform flutter kicks at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in 2021. The wing is scheduled to finish construction of facilities next year that will include mixed-sex dorms and bathrooms, which Air Force officials say will foster inclusiveness. (Nicholas J. De La Pena/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force is creating a multimillion-dollar aquatic special warfare training center with mixed-sex restrooms, locker rooms and showers as part of its push to make elite jobs more appealing to a broader candidate pool.

The 76,000-square-foot aquatics center is slated for completion by August 2023. It has a $66.6 million price tag and will accommodate more than 3,000 special warfare trainees annually, according to the service.

“The mixed-sex facilities built at our candidate course, where we first welcome special warfare airmen, are only the beginning,” Col. Nathan Colunga, leader of the San Antonio-based Special Warfare Training Wing, said Saturday in a statement.

The overarching strategy is to build mixed-sex facilities throughout the wing’s training footprint across the U.S., Colunga said.

Plans include some facilities that are specially designed to ensure privacy but also involve open-bay dormitories where male and female trainees bunk together.  Mixed locker rooms, meanwhile, incorporate individual shower rooms and restrooms for each trainee, the Air Force said.

In 2015, the service began integrating women into special warfare fields, which include jobs such as combat controller, pararescue, special reconnaissance and tactical air control. Mixed-sex facilities are an outgrowth of that decision.

The decision to make special warfare facilities more inclusive comes as the Air Force grapples with a recruiting crisis that, as is the case in the other military branches, has the service falling short on recruiting benchmarks.

“We continuously struggle to recruit enough people who have the potential to meet our standards in Air Force special warfare,” Maj. Gen. Michele Edmondson, Second Air Force commander, said in a Saturday statement. “I want to leave no stone unturned. We need to be more deliberate about bringing in anyone who has the propensity to serve in these career fields and meets the standards it takes to graduate.”

The Special Warfare Training Wing has graduated five women to date, and two female trainees are now in the pipeline, the service said.

The inclusivity push hasn’t been without controversy, however. In January, Air Force Times reported that the service’s top special operations chief, Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, had ordered an investigation after allegations emerged of attempts to push a female airmen through special tactics officer training despite her failure to meet all the standards.

After a four-month investigation, though, the Air Force inspector general concluded that leaders had not relaxed the rules to make it easier for the woman to qualify. “Facts did not support the ... claims of gender-based preferential treatment,” the IG report stated.

Edmondson said it’s incumbent on the Air Force to eliminate unintentional barriers.

“If we don’t appeal to all demographics to join these career fields, we are missing a huge portion of the available talent our nation has to offer,” she said. “We need to entice anyone who can meet the community’s standards.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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