Raven training combatives: 'It's chess, not checkers'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nathan G. Bevier
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
"Space is opportunity. It's chess, not checkers," said Tech. Sgt. Rudolph Stuart while instructing students in ground-fighting skills, or combatives, on Feb. 16.

Sergeant Stuart, combatives instructor with the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's 421st Combat Training Squadron here, uses those words to tell his students in the Air Force Phoenix Raven Training Course to be ready when an aggressor leaves an opening for a possible take-down. "It's looking for an open space, and then determining the right move to establish a 'checkmate,' like in chess," he said.

Phoenix Raven is an intensive 18-day, 12-hours-a-day program. The course's combatives training regimen takes up a large portion of that training because it ties into everything they learn, Sergeant Stuart said. It's designed to teach Raven teams how to use an acceptable level of force to ensure the security of aircraft, personnel and cargo at austere airfields throughout the world.

"We all hope that we don't have to harm another person in our day-to-day lives," Sergeant Stuart said. "But if the time or situation arises when we have to, a Raven and his team are well trained and willing to do whatever it takes to defend themselves, their crew or the mission."

All Phoenix Raven students train in a ground fighting-program that includes combatives from the Army and Air Force-designated hand-to-hand combat techniques to include pressure point compliance techniques, Sergeant Stuart said. The purpose of the program is to provide modern, realistic defensive tactics to develop the fighting spirit required to "close the gap" and end a fight quickly.

"After combatives training, I expect every student to have the ability to close the distance with the enemy when the moment calls for it, and dominate an altercation," Sergeant Stuart said. "If for whatever reason they can't dominate, they need to put themselves in a position where their other Raven partner can assist and both are afforded -- what we call in the Raven world as well as the Air Force -- a successful mission. It's the ability to go home to their families at the end of the day."

Senior Airman William Carson, a security forces journeyman from the 818th Contingency Response Group at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., spoke highly about the training he received.
"It shows what you will do when you become overwhelmed with an individual," Airman Carson said. "It is by far the best training experience I have ever been a part of. Now, I have the tools to complete the full mission."

Sergeant Stuart said Ravens can be in "extremely threatening situations." These are situations, he said, could even result in death.

"Being able to compose themselves and take control of the situation with less than lethal force when the moment calls for it is good for the Raven, their family and the Air Force mission," Sergeant Stuart said. "Equally important is being able to recognize a deadly situation and react."

Another Raven student, from the 374th Security Forces Squadron at Yokota Air Force Base,
Japan, said the mental and physical aspects of the combatives training instilled lessons he'd never forget.

"The combatives exercises pushed my threshold both mentally and physically and showed I can keep going," Airman 1st Class Ashton Cummings said. "Combatives training shows your true character and willingness to never give up."

Besides active duty Air Force security forces, the Phoenix Raven course trains sister service security personnel such as Navy Sailors and Army Soldiers. It also trains students from the Guard and Reserve of all services.

"The hand-to-hand combatives shows a person can fight and handle it," said Master at Arms 2nd Class Jose Guzman from Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, Calif. "The academic and physical training is intense."

If they pass the combatives training and their evaluations, the students eventually become an elite Raven and earn their own number for life. Since 1997, more than 1,700 Ravens have graduated and earned this title.

"To be a successful Raven, you must believe in the team concept, or family concept," Sergeant Stuart said. "Everyone with a number is your brother or sister and shares something the rest of the career field or the Air Force doesn't.

"Yet just like in a family you have cousins, uncles and nephews, and you all still have the same title -- family," Sergeant Stuart said. "A good Raven believes that about everyone he or she encounters, not only in the Air Force, but on every mission they will fly on. Everyone on the mission is family and no one messes with family."

And thanks to combatives training, the Raven "family" will win their game of chess. 

At a glance: Combatives instructor describes the chess game

From Tech. Sgt. Rudolph Stuart, 421st Combat Training Squadron combatives instructor for the Air Force Phoenix Raven Training Course

"Space is opportunity." 

When you have to close the distance with the enemy and put hands on, you want to be as close as possible.  Every inch between you is an opening for harm to be done to you. Close out all space, give the adversary no room to maneuver. Take away the adversaries space, you take away his opportunity to win.

"It's chess, not checkers." 

Many people believe that a fight is simple -- throw some punches, get some good kicks in and you win. When a fight is one of the most complex deep thought things two individual can engage in. 

How much does your adversary weigh? What's their reach? What skill do they have? What shape are they in?  The same things you have to consider about them you have to consider about yourself. 

You are constantly thinking...like when you play chest not like checkers. You make a move and see what happens. A fight is the same way. You are setting yourself up for success, not just going with the flow and hoping for the best. Always have a plan and always think ahead.