What it means to be a Raven

  • Published
  • By Airman Shen-Chia Chu
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
Part 1 of a 3-part series 

The number 1335.

For some, this is just an ordinary number. But for a Raven, this is his identity.

"This number defines who I am - a Raven," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Hernandez, 436th Security Forces Squadron deputy Raven program manager. "A Raven number is given to an Airman who graduates the Raven course. It's unique because no one can ever take that number, even after I die."

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

How it all began

In the aftermath of the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 and as a result of other serious events around the world, Gen. Walter Kross, AMC commander and former 436th Airlift Wing commander, directed implementation of the Phoenix Raven Program in 1997, under the leadership of former AMC Security Forces director and Air Force security forces officer, Col. Lawrence 'Rocky' Lane.

Colonel Lane started the Raven program in 1997 and earned him the title Raven #1 after graduating in the first Raven class that same year.

"Ravens advise the aircraft crew on force protection, perform close-in aircraft security and airfield assessments to measure areas of security weaknesses and assist with aircrew duties," said retired Master Sgt. Paul Kalp, a former Raven with number 195, who attended the third class of the program when it began.

Dover Ravens have even flown in support missions to provide humanitarian relief for Hurricane Katrina and presidential support missions with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We assess security, but it's a common misconception that we're body guards," said Sergeant Hernandez. "When we are on a mission, we're combined with the crew assigned to fly to form one team. That's why we consider ourselves a part of the aircrew when we're flying."

Dover Ravens are intermingled with security forces airmen, wearing the same uniform and performing many of the same duties as any security forces professional on base.

"Although we're regular cops first, we volunteer to stand at the forefront of force protection through receiving the extensive training in our career field and deploying to austere environments," said Sergeant Hernandez.

But when called at a moment's notice, the Ravens zip up their flight suits, shape the navy blue berets that serve as their cover and head out the door for their world-wide mission.

"The shortest notice I've been given has been three hours to prepare to leave at a moment's notice," said Sergeant Hernandez. "Last year, during Memorial Day weekend, we were given seven hours to round up to get ready, but usually we're told ahead of time of a mission to fully prepare for it."

"One of the benefits of being a Raven is being able to fly missions to anywhere in the world," said the sergeant. "I've traveled all over South America, Africa, Spain, Italy and Germany, just to name a few, in less than two years."

Instead of regular six-month deployments, Ravens are expected to deploy on short notice missions, and the number of days combined could amount to more days than a regular deployment.

Physical training is a priority

The Ravens stay prepared for anything through their rigorous physical training schedule - running four to five miles a day, five days a week.

"No matter what the weather is, rain or snow, we're running and always training. You have to be in physical shape for extreme circumstances," said Sergeant Hernandez.

Being in physical shape is only one aspect of the job, he explained.

"You also need to be able to stay alert, endure long hours and harsh environments," he said. "This happened to me one time, my team and I remained posted up to 72 hours without relief and limited resources."

The sergeant said his Airmen often train with 30-pound rucksacks.

"It's definitely a team effort, building camaraderie and helping one another to stay motivated and mission ready," he said.

Staying in shape may be a physical challenge itself, but the Phoenix Raven course also challenges Airmen in others ways.

"You're trained to be able to fend for yourself without a weapon because you are trained to use the resources available to you," said Mr. Kalp.

The intensive two-and-a-half week, 14-hour-a-day course in the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center at Fort Dix, N.J., covers such subjects as cross-cultural awareness, legal considerations, embassy operations, airfield-survey techniques, explosive ordnance awareness, aircraft searches and unarmed self-defense techniques.

"When the program first began, it was an eight-day class consisting of self-defense tactics, but now they've extended the length of the class and added additional training with ground fighting and grappling," said Mr. Kalp.

Dover Ravens get ready

"We mirror our training off of what may be in the course and more in-depth scenarios and use of force, such as asp training (fighting with a baton) against individuals dressed up in protective suits (Redman suits) and using different carrying techniques on a 185-pound dummy," said Sergeant Hernandez.

The sergeant said that the Dover Raven section, consisted of 21 Airmen, would not be able to function without the support of squadron and wing leadership.

"We've even been able to put Airmen through SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) training," he said.

The 18-day certification course includes verbal judo, which is a five-step process to de-escalate a situation before using force, he said.

"The course was the most physically-demanding training I ever went through," said Mr. Kalp. "When you get done with this, you're proud because not everyone makes it through the training. They don't just hand out numbers. They'll definitely make you earn it."

Ravens are leaders for the mission

"To become a Raven, leadership is key - no matter the rank - to protect anything in the aircraft. Any Raven could be in charge of a three-man team downrange in this career field and the lives of those Airmen rest in his hands," said Sergeant Hernandez. "It's not about rank, but about the responsibility we carry."

After security forces airmen graduate the course, Ravens are issued a lifetime numeric identifier. According to Mr. Kalp, the Ravens have only issued approximately 1,700 numbers.

"My number is 195 because I was the ninety-fifth person to go through the program," said Mr. Kalp. "The first 100 numbers are reserved for Raven instructors, and those are the only numbers that can be recycled."

"It's a very personal number because that number identifies your accomplishment for a lifetime," he said. "The lower the number, the more respect you gain from the Raven community."

Though Mr. Kalp has retired from the Air Force, he never retired his title and still refers to himself as a Raven first and foremost.

"Once a Raven, always a Raven," said Sergeant Hernandez.