FORT DIX, N.J. –
Students in the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's Phoenix Raven program here face many challenges in their quest to attain a coveted security forces Raven patch.
The course, taught by the 421st Combat Training Squadron, originated in the late 1990s after a need was seen to better protect military aircraft in an expeditionary environment.
Retired Col. Lawrence "Rocky" Lane helped established the Phoenix Raven program while serving as Air Mobility Command's top SF officer in 1997. He said over the last 11 years, the program has been a proven asset to the Air Force.
"I think the success of the mission of the Raven Program is that it speaks for itself," said Colonel Lane, who also was the first Raven student to graduate the course achieving Raven patch #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."
A Raven, according to Tech. Sgt. Ryan Thompson, Raven course director, is "an Airman, Sailor, or Soldier who has readily accepted the responsibility to ensure the success of our force protection mission. They are all volunteers and are prepared to travel at a moment's notice anywhere around the world to protect Department of Defense assets for as long as it takes to complete the mission."
Ravens must also be of the highest caliber from the security forces career field. And, they must practice high moral judgment that will reflect well on missions abroad, Sergeant Thompson said.
"Ravens are put in a stressful environment to handle situations professionally and tactfully," Sergeant Thompson said. "The training we provide reflects those situations they could face."
Phoenix Raven is an "intensive" 18-day, 12-hour-a-day course covering such subjects as cross-cultural awareness, legal considerations, embassy operations, airfield survey techniques, explosive ordnance awareness, aircraft searches and unarmed self-defense techniques. Students are exposed to more than 70 use-of-force scenarios where stress is simulated through by role players. Training includes instruction and realistic practical exercises in verbal judo, defensive tactics, and armament systems and procedures training.
The 42 students in the most recent Air Force Phoenix Raven Course, Class 08-D held Aug. 5 to 22, came from all over the Air Force. Many of them are active duty security forces members, but there are Guard and Reserve security forces as well.
Staff Sgt. Ian Martin, from the 121st Security Forces Squadron at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, and the bearer of Raven #1709, said he was proud to complete the course.
"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."
For Airman 1st Class Nicole Yarak, from the 60th SFS, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., the course has made her a better Airman.
"Everything we've been taught can be implemented in real life," said Airman Yarak, holder of Raven #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 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 #1723. "It was easily the most beneficial combatives program I have ever taken. As a former Marine from 1991 to 2005, I can honestly say Raven is one of the top three courses I have ever taken. I am glad I made this choice and was given the challenge."
Some of the students offered advice to future Ravens attending the course.
"A couple of guys had a motto: 'You've gotta want it,'" said Airman 1st Class Joshua Davis from the 6th Security Forces Squadron, MacDill AFB, Fla., and holder of Raven #1694. "Also, relaxing is a big part of preparing for the next day of training. You can't overstress yourself and you have to prepare your mind. Coming to the school mentally prepared is a must."
Staff Sgt. Deanna Krivitza, 316th Security Forces Squadron, Andrews AFB, Md., and Raven #1708, added, "Going through this course, I took it one day at a time. I found in the first week that I stressed about what the days were going to bring. Then by the middle of my second week, I learned that it's best to relax and focus on the day I'm in. Mentally, I kept telling myself to never back down and show weakness."
Sergeant Thompson said upon graduating the course, one thing becomes a Raven's greatest weapon.
"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."
Raven #1718 Airman 1st Class Kailen Smith, also from the 316th SFS at Andrews, may have said it best about becoming a Raven.
"It is an awesome responsibility to have," Airman Smith said. "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."