A U.S. Air Force Reserve C-17 Globemaster III crew is assigned a mission that has them landing at an unfamiliar airfield, in a not-so-friendly country for a fuel stop – there are established diplomatic ties, but in this scenario, the two countries do not always see eye-to-eye on socio-political issues. Your team, members of the elite Phoenix Ravens, is assigned to the mission to provide extra security, in case a situation arises where a less diplomatic response is required. On the first leg of the mission, the flight lands for the planned fuel stop, you and your wingman deplane and are quickly surrounded by six unfriendly-looking foreign police officers, demanding entry onto the aircraft. They rant on that someone on board the jet was taking unauthorized photos of the airfield. At this point, the only weapons are your words and if your words cannot calm the situation, your hands.
This scenario is all too real for members of the Phoenix Ravens, a team of specially-trained security forces personnel who travel as aircrew members on board U.S. military aircraft that fly into high threat areas with unsecured airfields.
A Raven’s primary duties are to safeguard the aircraft by identifying, discouraging and mitigating possible threats; they also brief the aircrew on the situation and evaluate the airfield and surrounding area. In addition to those duties, they assist the aircrew in their duties when circumstances allow.
In order to carry out their main mission they must be able to disarm, take down and defend themselves with only the use of their mind and body, because international laws prohibit Ravens from carrying weapons outside the aircraft in many of the countries they visit, said Staff Sgt. Mark Estorga, 452d Security Forces Squadron, assistant Raven program manager.
“Let’s hope I never have to use this training because that means I didn’t use my verbal judo effectively,” Estorga said. “We train for the worst and hope for the best.”
March Ravens conducted quarterly training, Nov. 30, to help enhance their abilities to do their jobs, which involved weapons training and performing more than a dozen different hand-to-hand combat tactics and techniques used to subdue an enemy.
The instruction began with an extreme calisthenics session to prepare them for the intense day awaiting them. These sessions are a must to ensure their bodies are limber and warmed up to reduce the threat of injury.
During the Practical Pistol Course for Concealed Carry, the Ravens must qualify like everyone else; however, they must shoot and reload without using their dominant arm. This allows for more versatility and is used for situations when they are stateside and required to conceal their weapons. Regardless if entering a hostile country armed or not, they must still maintain proficiency for stateside missions.
Once everyone was qualified on the M-9, the combative course began. The class was instructed by Master Sgt. Juan Rodriguez, Tech. Sgt. Thomas D’Auria and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Fedro. It’s imperative that Ravens understand hand-to-hand combat, said Sandoval, Raven program manager, 452 SFS. “When you’re in another county, your hands and your body are pretty much all you have to defend yourself.”
The Ravens were taught different fighting positions and ways to maneuver their bodies in order to gain control over an adversary in a hand-to-hand battle. D’Auria marveled at the passion each Raven displayed as they struggled and fought to overpower and outsmart their opponent.
“I like to help instill that passion and pump the guys up to make them fight harder,” he said. D’Auria went on to say the worst thing for someone in this position is to be passive, so the instructors really encourage him or her to be really aggressive and go all out.
By the end of the training sessions, the Ravens were exhausted, but really pumped up and feeling good about the training, said Estorga.
Sandoval said he hoped to continue the training on a quarterly basis, in order to keep the Ravens in prime shape and prepared to fly anywhere in the world to secure Air Force assets.
452d Security Forces Raven, assigned to March Air Reserve Base, Calif., use push-ups to begin an extreme calisthenics session to prepare them for an intense day of hand-to-hand combat and weapons training during their training day. They hope to continue this training quarterly to keep their skills finely tuned. (U.S. Air Force photo / Megan Crusher)