Phoenix Raven training highlights capabilities of security forces Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
For Staff Sgt. Ian Martin, number 1709 is the beginning of a new life. 

Number 1709 means the staff sergeant, who is from the 121st Security Forces Squadron at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, is the 1,709th person to become a Raven.  

Air Force security forces Ravens are a select group of specially trained volunteers who've reached, maintained high standards during their military careers, and are dedicated to providing top-notch security for Air Mobility Command assets and en route aircraft around the world.  

The program was started in the late 1990s by then-AMC commander, Gen. Walter Cross, to better protect military aircraft in an expeditionary environment. It was implemented under the direction of former AMC security forces director, Col. Lawrence "Rocky" Lane.  

"The success of the mission of the Raven program is that it speaks for itself," said Colonel Lane, who was the first Raven student to graduate the course, achieving Raven patch No. 1 -- a patch he is proud to own. "Of all the thousands of missions that have been flown by AMC and other commands throughout the world that have had Ravens with it, we haven't lost a single aircraft. We also haven't had a single aircrew member killed or wounded or anything, that's been in the care and protection of a Raven or a Raven team." 

Earning the title isn't easy. Before a security forces member can become a Raven, he or she must complete the rigorous Phoenix Raven course at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center on Fort Dix, N.J. 

The course, taught by the 421st Combat Training Squadron, is an intense 18-day training program that covers cross-cultural awareness, embassy operations, airfield survey techniques, explosive ordnance awareness, aircraft searches and unarmed self-defense techniques.  

"Ravens are put in a stressful environment to handle situations professionally and tactfully," said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Thompson, Raven course director. "The training we provide reflects those situations they could face." 

As part of this training, students are exposed to more than 70 use-of-force scenarios that simulate real-word situations. 

"Everything we've been taught can be implemented in real life," said Airman 1st Class Nicole Yarak, from the 60th SFS at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and holder of Raven No. 1726. "I found the verbal judo and combatives the most useful. Verbal judo, for example, takes you out of that 'cop mentality' and teaches you to empathize with others. It helps you solve conflicts with your words and to watch your nonverbal actions which made me realize you can leave a lasting impression on someone."  

The goal is to teach the students that their rifles and hands aren't their only weapons. Their best weapon is in their heads.  

"It's their mind," Sergeant Thompson said. "Their discipline, fortitude, and ability to think quickly will ensure their success in providing force protection anywhere ... at any time. Despite numerous hours spent perfecting unarmed hand-to-hand combat techniques, the Raven graduate understands their most powerful asset is their mind." 

Upon graduation, the students are given a number -- a number no other person will hold and that marks them among the chosen ranks of this elite group.  

"It's special to know you are part of such a small group in one of the Air Force's largest career fields," Sergeant Martin said. "It's great to know that no person will ever be given the Raven number you worked so hard to earn. I am glad it's done though. This course forced us to come out of our comfort zones and push our abilities to the limit, but it also made us grow together as a team." 

The Raven combatives training also affected some of the students.  

"Raven combatives instruction was top notch," said Tech. Sgt. Allyn Uebel, 934th SFS at Minneapolis Air Reserve Station, Minn., who holds Raven No. 1723. "It was easily the most beneficial combatives program I have ever taken. As a former Marine, I can honestly say this is one of the top three courses I have ever taken." 

And being a Raven is an honor that does not go unnoticed by those who achieve the title.  

"It is an awesome responsibility to have," said Airman 1st Class Kailen Smith, of the 316th SFS at Andrews AFB, Md., and Raven No. 1718. "I know that what I do from now on not only reflects on myself and the Air Force, but also my fellow Raven brothers and sisters. I have to do right by all of them."