Aircraft from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, frequently deploy across the 20 nations that make up the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Area of Responsibility to deliver and receive cargo and provide combat and humanitarian support. It takes a team of personnel to see a mission through to the end, among those are Airmen whose duty is ensuring safety of the plane and all aboard once it has arrived at the destination.
That’s where U.S. Air Force Phoenix Ravens come in.
“Missions don’t go without Ravens,” said Master Sergeant Tingle, 816th Flying Squadron Phoenix Raven. “We’ll go downrange to a location that may not have adequate security, do airfield assessments, provide security while they’re on the ground and then make sure it’s safe to return to the plane.”
Ravens are a small, tight-knit section of Security Forces Airmen that are specifically qualified for tasks that allow them to attach to flying squadrons. Ravens must attend the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where they learn skills that aid to providing safety on foreign airfields. In the course, Airmen receive baton training, verbal judo (the use of words to prevent or de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation), combative and live-fire training, embassy operations and cross-cultural awareness among many other qualifications.
“It’s very vigorous training and I think a lot of times it’s more of the fear of going because of the stories you hear [about how intense it is],” said Tingle. “Once you get there, the cadre works with you, you form a team and when you graduate you get that unique number that’s your identifier for the rest of your career.”
There are some Security Forces Airmen who train to function alongside the Ravens while deployed at AUAB. These Airmen make up Fly Away Security Teams (FAST) and while these Airmen are not qualified as Ravens, they work together to protect the aircraft and its crew in often unfamiliar, austere locations.
“Ravens have global reach capabilities and can come and go in and out of the area of operation unlike the FAST who are theater specific,” said Tingle. “Ravens fall under Air Mobility Command and FAST are AFCENT. FAST members are only authorized to do other mission besides the C-130 ops if they attach to a Raven team consisting of a two to one ratio.”
FAST has been around prior to the inception of the Phoenix Raven Program which began in 1997. There are currently fewer than 300 flying Ravens in the Air Force, so FAST is relied heavily on to help with deployed mission tempo.
Senior Airman Justin Diaz, 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron FAST member, explained how the shared experience connects them all.
“You’re kind of isolated between you and your wingman, so we really bond together during those kinds of moments,” said Diaz. “When you’re with a person and you guys are working out together then you get on a plane and do a fifteen-hour mission, come back and eat together, you build a strong team and unit.”
The job of a Raven and a FAST member may come with its challenges, but the unique opportunity makes it something to be treasured.
“It was my first time getting to fly and doing something like this and I can honestly say it was the best thing I’ve done in my career,” said Diaz. “The experience, getting to travel the AOR, getting to meet all these people, it has been the best thing I’ve done so far. Once you learn to fly, being on the ground just doesn’t feel the same.”