The gym echoed with sounds of bodies hitting the floor as instructors watched their students wrestle each other to the ground.
The students trained tirelessly for the past week and were showing signs of wear and tear: cuts, bruises, and red, sweaty faces steaming with pain.
Their instructors watched with stoic faces and eyes as cold as ice; if the students can’t handle the heat here, how can they handle it when they are on a real mission?
“Keep your heads off the mat,” yelled one of the instructors. “What are you doing? Come on, figure it out!”
“Find a way to get out of that choke-hold,” yelled another.
This is the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course, which is believed by some to be the most rigorous training program in the Air Force security forces world. The Air Mobility Command’s Phoenix Raven program centers upon the concept of specially-trained security forces Airmen flying with and protecting AMC aircraft around the world.
“The (purpose of the Ravens) is to provide close-in security for aircraft and airfields that AMC has deemed as having inadequate security,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph McGuire, 421st Combat Training Squadron Phoenix Raven Qualification Course instructor. “We guard the aircraft, protect the personnel, and whatever else is on board.”
This particular class, however, is different: instead of taking place at the Raven program’s training hub at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, it was conducted by a mobile training team sent to U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.
The Raven team came to Ramstein Air Base upon the request of the 86th Airlift Wing and USAFE-AFAFRICA leadership, said Master Sgt. Sean Cunningham, 421st CTS Phoenix Raven Qualification Course director.
While the pressure and stress the instructors push onto the students may seem harsh to some people, it all serves as preparation for the realities they will face during real-world operations, said Cunningham, who served as the team lead for the MTT which went to Ramstein.
“If they are unable to complete the tasks to pass here in training, it casts doubt on their ability to accomplish their duties when they’re downrange, possibly tired and stressed with absolutely no one to help them out but themselves,” he said.
The students in the course came from three squadrons in the Kaiserslautern Military Community: The 86th and 435th Security Forces Squadrons, and the 569th United States Forces Police Squadron.
The course involves vigorous physical training sessions, Armament Systems and Procedures Baton training, use-of-force scenarios, combatives classes, and live-fire training, as well as 15 academic classes.
McGuire added that it is not uncommon for some students to fail the course and get sent home. A few have already washed out since they started on Jan. 22.
“It is extremely hard,” he said. “You have to be mentally and physically tough. You have to have heart. You have to have dedication and mental tenacity. And you have to be able to make proper decisions while being in a stressful environment.”
Those that do make it through the course are rewarded with an illustrious career and a place among an elite group of security forces Airmen, McGuire added.
“For me personally it’s the most rewarding thing as a security forces member,” McGuire said. “They get to fly with senior government officials, they get to see the world, and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Students who graduate from the program receive the Raven tab which they may wear on their uniform, and also a coin with their Raven number — a number which stays with them for the rest of their career.
As for the students currently taking part in the Raven Qualification Course at Ramstein, they have more obstacles to overcome before they can even see that number. They still have about two more weeks of training before they can call themselves Ravens.
Until then, the instructors will continue to apply pressure.