JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C., –
About the Phoenix Ravens:
According to the Air Mobility Command's factsheet, Phoenix Ravens consist of all volunteer teams of specially trained security forces personnel dedicated to provide security for AMC aircraft transiting through high terrorist and criminal threat areas.
The Phoenix Raven training course, conducted by the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ, consists of a three-week, 12-hours a day, program covering cross-cultural awareness, legal considerations, explosive ordnance training, aircraft searches, unarmed self-defense techniques, use-of-force scenarios, advanced firearms proficiency and anti-hijacking operations.
After completing of the course, newly graduated Ravens receive a lifetime numeric identifier. Since 1997, when the program was created, more than 2,000 security forces Airmen have been awarded a personal number.
Security Forces Airmen at Joint Base Charleston interested in becoming a Raven must complete several prerequisite requirement including: completing a three-day physical fitness try-out, participating in a one-on-one interview with the Raven NCO in-charge and passing a local three-week Raven apprentice course.
"The three-day tryout is to see if a servicemember has what it takes to become a Raven and it's also a time to see if that servicemember is really committed to becoming one," said Staff Sgt. Lorena Gomez, Phoenix Raven team leader. Before applying, servicemember must have achieved at least a 90 percent on their most recent physical training test. Gomez continued, "The tryout is really just a taste of what it takes to become a Raven and the apprentice course which follows is more demanding."
A day during the three-week Raven apprentice course:
A typical day in the Raven apprentice course begins at is 7:30 a.m. at the gym where the applicants stretch and prepare for the day. Today the students are taking an official Air Force PT test. The test consists of a waist measurement, one minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups and a one and a half mile run.
Some would consider a PT test a workout but, for the students attending the Raven course, it's a warm-up for their busy schedule.
"To be honest, the PT test is one of the easier things we do physically," said Staff Sgt. Gregory Green, a Raven apprentice student.
After completing the PT test, students go to the Raven training room and prepare for what is known as a 'smoke session.'
A 'smoke session is an intense work-out where students are tested physically and mentally to a point of exhaustion.
A typical smoke session lasts over an hour and involves doing exercises such as push-ups, flutter kicks, squats, presses and other core exercises. Raven trainers make things more interesting by continually making more physical and mental demands of the students during the session.
"Doing 300 flutter-kicks is difficult but the motivation of the other Airmen doing them with me pushes me to continue too," Green added.
After the "smoke session," the participants recover while studying material required during Raven School courses.
"At Charleston we have a pretty high graduation rate from Raven School," Gomez said. "Not every AMC base does a three-week preparation program."
After a short break, physical training continues. Students are taught hand-to-hand combat techniques using batons, defensive and offensive fighting positions and practicing striking a training dummy or heavy bag.
After lunch the students perform what's known as "Redman" training. Trainers don protective fight suits and go one on one with the students.
"Redman training is how we teach students to protect themselves and how to subdue an attacker," Gomez said. "It's intense and fast-paced but we make safety a top consideration because we don't want the students or the trainers getting hurt."
The official training day normally ends about 4:30 pm.
Although, the training is intense, students agree at the end of the day, all of the hard work is worth it.
"I want to become a Raven because of the opportunities to be part of a great mission and the experiences of seeing the world," offered Senior Airman Jarred Alford, Raven student.
The operational tempo for Ravens remains constantly high and, according to Gomez, most Ravens are on the road up to three weeks a month.
Senior Airman Cort Romo, a Phoenix Raven from the 628th SFS squadron, said the section at Charleston needs to fill nine new positions but finding volunteers is not as easy as it sounds.
"We have a demanding job that many people don't want to do. That's fine," Romo said. "We want the best-of-the best and we want people who want to be here."