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Reborn from the ashes: What it takes to become a Phoenix Raven

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michelle Ulber
  • 146th Airlift Wing

Described by many who have experienced it as one of the most difficult training programs they have ever been through, the Phoenix Ravens of the U.S. Air Force earn their reputation as one of the command’s most respected and elite force.

“It’s one of those programs that many Air Force people don’t know about,” Fuhrmann explained. And most people in general don’t know who the Phoenix Ravens are.

“A Phoenix Raven is a security forces member that is part of a highly-trained team that goes into austere environments, into areas that have been deemed as high criminal threat areas, or high terrorist threat areas,” said Fuhrmann, superintendent of the 146th Airlift Wing’s Security Forces Squadron (SFS). “They’re there to make sure that Air Mobility Command assets, such as the aircraft, cargo and personnel arrive safely, and that they get home safely.” 

The process to become a Phoenix Raven can be a long one. Candidates start as trainees waiting to go through the Apprenticeship Indoctrination Course. When they graduate from that, they train to go through the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Six airmen just recently graduated from the Phoenix Raven Apprenticeship Indoctrination class August 6-9, 2020, at Camp Roberts, San Luis Obispo, California.

The three-day course is designed to allow the seasoned Ravens to test and evaluate the Raven trainees; and they are tested spiritually, mentally and physically. It is their first stepping stone to becoming a Phoenix Raven.

“The course started with making sure that they had their physical fitness up to par, and then we went right into the academic portion, so they have a good understanding of how to apply their knowledge,” said Fuhrmann, a 20-year Raven veteran. “We did hand-to-hand training, ground combat, and the ASP- baton. They went for three-minute rounds with the ‘red man’ in the ring (referring to protective red padded gear worn when training use of force). They were given a first-aid class and surveillance/counter-surveillance training; it was a barrage of never-ending, constant courses and physical training for them. 

“We worked them both day and night,” Fuhrmann went on. “It better postures them for the job. You don’t get to quit during a mission, so you don’t get to quit during the indoctrination training.”

The indoctrination course is designed to be even more challenging than the actual Phoenix Raven Qualification Course, so that instructors are sure that they’re sending their best candidates to school. 

“We need to be able to see that the member can think on their feet, that they’re able to de-escalate situations, defuse problems and think outside the box. We want to see what they’ve learned and how quickly they expand on it with new skills,” said Fuhrmann. 

Despite the difficulty of the course, every trainee passed the indoctrination course.

“Each candidate successfully navigated the apprenticeship indoctrination, which they all should be very proud of. And so far, all of them want to go through the Phoenix Raven course at Fort Dix,” said Fuhrmann. 

However, this is just the first step for the new apprentices. 

“At this stage, they continue learning more on-the-job concepts,” explained Fuhrmann. “They got a sliver of the pie at the training, and now we can go ahead and start feeding them the bigger pieces, so they can put what they learned at the class to practical use. It will better prepare them physically, mentally, and spiritually for when they go to Fort Dix.”  

Doing these indoctrination courses gives an edge to the students that other units may not have. 

“The indoctrination and training only make them a better Raven candidate, so they’re that much more familiar than the rest of the students. It benefits them, and it benefits us. It’s all things that we teach them that have to be learned, practiced, and continued so they become better at it,” said Fuhrmann.  

It can take up to two years for a Raven apprentice to get a slot to go through the course. 

The extensive training that the apprentices go through during this time helps to hone their minds and teach them to be patient and committed to their cause to become a Raven. 

“The training at the schoolhouse was intense when I went through. The Phoenix Raven school was probably one of the top three toughest things that I’ve ever endured in my life,” said Fuhrmann. “It’s not a school that you can go into on a whim of the mind. You have to have absolute commitment and dedication to want it, to survive it, because it’s hard. Not just for school purposes, but also because when you are on a mission with your team, that’s it. It’s just you and your team. You have to have commitment and dedication so that when you do go on these missions, you can rely solely on each other.” 

The rigorous challenge to become a Phoenix Raven doesn’t appeal to many, and is an extremely exclusive career field, he explained. 

“We’re roughly only 2,800 Ravens strong in the Air Force. The program has been around only about 23 years. It makes us a very tight-knit family, and you’re able to make long-lasting friends in this career,” said Fuhrmann.