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RAVEN Life: Looking back Over the Last Twenty Years and to the Future

The Phoenix Ravens Stationed at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base. Not pictured Maj. Ryan Harrah

The Phoenix Ravens Stationed at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base. Not pictured Maj. Ryan Harrah (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. De-Juan Haley)

The Phoenix Ravens Stationed at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base. Not pictured Maj. Ryan Harrah

Then Capt. Ryan Harrah poses with a Mil Mi-17 Russian helicopter in 2014. (courtesy photo)

MCLAUGHLIN AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, W.Va. -- Picture this. An elite team tasked with the mission to detect, deter, and counter threats to military aircraft, guard Air Force One and conduct intelligence gathering, all while being skilled in close-quarters-combat and be ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. This description may conjure images of covert operators or special agents, but this describes an elite Air Force security forces team, the Phoenix Ravens, who are celebrating their twentieth year of existence.

Conceived in 1997 by then Air Mobility Command commander Gen. Walter Kross as an innovative approach to force protection after the Khobar Tower Bombing and other terrorist attacks, Ravens were established and trained to protect high value military aircraft while traveling abroad.
Maj. Ryan Harrah, 130th Airlift Wing Executive Officer and former security forces commander, is one of less than 2,600 defenders to ever complete Raven training.

“I listened to the stories of those who had completed training before me and I was intrigued by a group who made it a point to exceed standards and expectations,” he recalled as his reasons for wanting to become a Raven. His opportunity came shortly after the September 11th attacks, when the need for Ravens were heating up.

To be considered for Raven training, a security forces member must complete their career development course to become a journeyman and pass a strict physical fitness assessment. Although not as common in the Air National Guard, many units from across the Air Force have implemented local Raven qualification courses to ensure the prospective candidates are prepared for the training at the Air Mobility Warfare Center, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

Tech. Sgt. Terina Gardner who completed Raven training in 2010, is the 130th Airlift Wing’s first, and only to date, female Raven.

“They said no female in this unit has ever gone or wanted to go, so I decided I would be the first.” she said. “It’s the whole reason I became a security forces member, I get to travel and deploy more frequently and that was a big appeal to me.”

One word that is commonly used to describe the training is “intense.” The course is a non-stop, three-week training, with 12-hour plus days that includes time in the classroom, on/around aircraft, on the shooting range, and in the “House of Pain,” a nickname given to the place where close-quarters combat and much of the physical training takes place.

“I had an idea of what to anticipate going in, but it exceeded my expectations both mentally and physically,” Harrah said. “I would recommend the course to anyone willing to do it.”

Due to the non-stop and intense nature of training there is a high wash-out rate. Master Sgt. Greg Pack, Raven program manager for the 130th Airlift Wing explained how he felt upon graduating, “It was a great feeling of joy and pain upon graduation. It gives you a feeling of great pride.”

Once a candidate becomes a Raven, he or she is assigned a Raven number based on when they finish the course. This number will stay with them for life. The lower the number, the more experienced the Raven is in terms of years in the position. In the Raven world, that number means more than rank ever could. Pack was given the number 623, Harrah was given the number 850, and Gardner was assigned 1949.

Once back from school, the Raven must be ready to deploy at any time as aircrew members on AMC missions as designated by the AMC Threat Working Group. They may also be tasked to work with members from other commands such as the U. S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, or Air Combat Command. Additionally, a Raven may be directed by their unit commander to accompany home-station aircraft.

Because of the demands around the globe, Harrah explained that he’s been to numerous places and had unique experiences in the job.

“I’ve had opportunities to travel with the Secretary of Homeland Security and a number of U.S. Congressmen,” he said. “I have a lot of great memories and have seen many places due to serving as a Raven.”

Currently there are eight Ravens assigned to the 130th Airlift Wing, which is a large amount for an ANG unit. Unlike in the active duty world, ANG Ravens perform normal security forces tasks such as installation security and base patrol while not on duty, but they can be called upon at any moment to fly a mission.

Each Raven recognized that the knowledge and skills they obtained through the training has proven to be valuable in other duties.

Harrah noted, “Although I deployed to serve in both antiterrorism and convoy operations roles I was able to use my Raven skills and training to help provide protection to U.S. aircrew advisors and the Afghan Air Force by volunteering in my off-duty time flying missions on Afghan Mi-17 helicopters and C-208 fixed-wing aircraft.”

Pack added that experiences to travel and see new cultures is the memory that he would most cherish, while Gardner said that the respect that she earned from the older Ravens meant the most to her.

With a world that continues to grow more volatile the Raven mission will become that much more important. Other branches have realized the impact Ravens make and are sending candidates through the school as well.

For Harrah, he feels a sense of pride when he thinks of the 130th AW Ravens, “I am proud to watch the program grow and to see what our unit’s Ravens have, and will continue to accomplish in the years to come.”
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