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Pheonix Ravens go from 'zero to 100' once mission begins

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Bill Walsh
  • 315th Airlift Wing
Armed with their Colt M-4 carbine assault rifles, body armor and a can-do attitude, three Phoenix Ravens of the 315th Security Forces Squadron from Joint Base Charleston gear up as they approach Apiay, Colombia ready to protect a $200 million aircraft and the crew operating it.

"You go from zero to 100 once this aircraft lands and its time to go to work," said Tech. Sgt. Chris Boley experiencing his first real world Raven mission aboard the giant C-17.

The Phoenix Ravens aboard this flight and operating around the world on other Air Mobility Command aircraft train hard for this specialized mission. In addition to being a 5-level security forces member, Ravens have to complete a 24-day specialized school where the number of graduates is usually less than the number who start the program.

"The training is intense," said Staff Sgt. David Thomas. "I had a busted nose, cracked ribs and swollen ear." Students are put though rigorous, real life situations at the Fort Dix, N.J. schoolhouse including ground-fighting skills, hand combat and verbal judo.

For these selected security forces personnel, being a Raven means long days and long hours. "It's challenging when sometimes you end up staying overnight on the aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Steve Smith who has been a Raven since 2007 and is currently the unit's training manager. "Our trips are usually four or five days, but we can deploy for 15 or more during A.E.F. (air expeditionary force) cycles."

For the aircrews that operate these huge jets, it adds another layer of security and lets them concentrate on the flying. "It feels good to have them around and it's easier for us," said Capt. Clinton Johnson, a pilot with the 300th Airlift Squadron.

Many Air Force Reserve Phoenix Ravens are law enforcement officers in their civilian lives. Staff Sgt. Boley is an officer with the Horry County Police in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "This is a great opportunity, as a Reservist, to fly missions that have an impact on people's lives like in Haiti," he said during one of the long flying legs these Ravens experience.
According to Smith, it's not just about jumping on a plane and flying to some austere location. "We have to research where we are going, what the threat level is, language barriers and more," he explained.

Those locations can be anywhere on Earth, literally. On this mission the Ravens are flying into South and Central America. Mental readiness along with physical readiness is a vital part of job for all of the men and women who make up the Phoenix Ravens.
"When we're on duty, we're constantly vigilant," Boley said as he loaded his weapon before landing.

Each Phoenix Raven is given a number upon graduation similar to a police officer's badge number. Each member wears it proudly on the nametags attached to their flight suites. The number that comes to mind when flying with these specialized security force members is clearly the number one.