The intense USAF qualification course ensures only the most qualified Security Forces Airmen become Ravens.
When fully trained, Ravens are air marshals on the ground who deploy with aircrew members on missions designated by the AMC Threat Working Group. Raven teams protect aircraft and their crews and cargo from criminal and terrorist threats while traveling through airfields where security is either unknown or inadequate.
The Air Force has fewer than 150 active Ravens executing AMC’s force protection of strategic airlift around the world. The intense qualification course ensures the select few who become Ravens are of an exceptional caliber.
Inside the training facility, everyone who has gone through will cringe at the thought of the “house of pain” and its not about pancakes. This is where all trainees do the majority of physical training. Physical training consists of calisthenics and fighting the Redman. The trainees are taught basic hand to hand skills for fighting unarmed and with a baton.
One of the biggest challenges in the “house of pain” for the cadres is to teach the trainee how to fight within the three week course. Having intestinal fortitude can go a long way, but without the tools its hard to gain confidence. The cadres help with the missing tools, but the biggest thing that you’ll learn is to go beyond your physical limitations. It’s when you can’t do any more push-ups (over 1,000 per day) or flutter kicks and now you have to pit against a fresh Redman. Doesn’t sound fair, but in reality it teaches the trainee to think so they can overcome real-world decisions while down-range.
You’re not here to watch a fight, this ain’t UFC, you’re in here to motivate each-other and keep each-other going. HOOAH. The only time I want to hear a ‘Hooah’ is if one of your classmates deliver the proper strike. Until then, you’re gonna tell them what they’re doing wrong. Squared away, candidates?
“These last nine days of training have…”
Can we do a proper push up?
Just because I walk away doesn’t mean you get on your freaking knees, you.
“I can’t even think of a word to describe it.”
Take a seat and you can go home today.
“Not only overwhelming, but…”
Hey, straighten your legs, let’s go!
“Stressful. Very stressful.”
We’ll be here all freakin’ day, Ravens, sound off.”
“The biggest thing I look for in each trainee is heart. We can build muscle, we can make them stronger, we can make them faster. But at the end of the day, if a Raven comes here without any heart, then they’re useless to the program and our community as a whole.”
“US Air Marshals are the ones that protect that aircraft in the air. We’re the ones that protect the aircraft on the ground. We go to a lot of hostile environments all over the world. So we put students through a course that is high intensity, to better prepare them for situations they might encounter downrange.”
“So we try to build tat austere, adverse environment in our training, with the PT, the discipline that we bring into the course.”
“If you even get caught blinking in class, not paying attention for a second, they’re on you. They know, they’re always watching. That’s what will prepare us for downrange. You let your guard down for a minute down there, and it could cost you lives.”
For some of these guys and gals, this will be the first time ever getting hit in the head, or getting touched, period. Make sure you try to make it as realistic as possible, but at the same rate- this isn’t a bar fight.[Sounding off]
“It was beyond what I thought it was gonna be. They had a red man in each corner, they brought us in with a big circle and pads, and they come at you hard. There was mouthpieces flying, headgear coming off, black eyes, bloody noses, they came at us hard. Reason being is, when we’re downrange and we’re fighting, nobody is gonna take it easy. It’s either him or me, and that’s how it’s gonna be. And if he gets me, that’s not gonna stop him from getting what I’m supposed to protect, which is other personnel and the aircraft. It started off bad for me. My initial fight, I wasn’t doing some of the techniques correctly, so it came down to basically my last fight, either do it right or go home.”
I hate to say this, this is probably the worst part of my job, but you all did not pass your RedMan. So go home, go back to your units…
“To see an individual dig deep, and you see them push through it, you hear them scream, you see the sweat, you see the tears, it feels good to see people push through those hardships, and then to see them walk across the stage knowing they earned their Raven number.”
“I feel like the turning point when we became a team was after that RedMan fight. Everyone came together and we realized that we can’t get through this alone.”
“I look back and it was one of the defining moments of my life. One of the biggest accomplishments ever. Absolutely surreal.
Sources: Airman Magazine Online, Ft Dix, Video by Jimmy D Shea
Editor’s note: Part I in this series last issue covered the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations.The United States Air Force is a unique service for a multitude of reasons. It was the ﬁrst branch of the service to allow women into combat roles (security police) and has an entire career ﬁeld dedicated to protecting air bases, aircraft, Air Force personnel and nuclear weapons. All of the other services require individual units to provide security for themselves, i.e. an Army aviation unit’s members, including her mechanics, are armed and trained as riﬂemen. In the Air Force, only one group is trained in the art of Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD).
Chuck Norris started his martial arts training when he was an air policeman in Korea. Besides Norris, the “Sky Cops” have a storied past full of unsung heroes, hard-fought battles and the distinction that not a single air base was ever overrun during the Vietnam War – and not for lack of trying on the North Vietnamese’s part either. It has taken nearly 70 years for this career ﬁeld to gain its true identity. Here is that story.
POST WORLD WAR II
In 1947 when the Air Force was officially separated from the Army, the need to protect not only the aircraft but now a cache of nuclear weapons became paramount. The old-time bomber pilot and commander Curtis LeMay saw the need for a unit to function like the infantry, but on Air Force bases. These airmen needed to be versed in the use of small arms, crew-served weapons, and squad- (ﬁre team in the Air Force), platoon- (called a ﬂight) and company- (called a squadron) level tactics. These units needed to be highly specialized in the deterrence and detection of unauthorized people or groups attempting to access a base (especially ones with nuclear missions) or missile ﬁeld. The Strategic Air Command led the way in developing their APs into highly trained soldier airmen, known unofficially as “SAC Trained Killers.”
During the Korean War, very few air bases came under attack. The APs were basically law enforcement on the base and guarded aircraft. No tactical plans had been implemented, let alone training for a base attack. The Air Force was lucky, but their luck would be tested mightily in the next go-around. The SAC model wasn’t followed by units in Korea, as the nuclear weapons were kept stateside.
As the Vietnam War ramped up in the 1960s, so did the need for the Air Force’s presence in and around America’s ally in Southeast Asia. The U.S. focused most of its air bases in South Vietnam and Thailand, with others further away in places like Guam and the Philippines. Those bases located on the mainland endured the greatest risk of attack, as they sat close to enemy forces. Amazingly enough, few of the Air Force bases came under attack in the beginning years of the war. The tactics and mindset were still very Korean War-oriented. Many APs arrived at bases in Southeast Asia to ﬁnd no weapons had been sent for them to use. Other bases had WWII leftovers – Browning Automatic Riﬂes (BARs), .30-caliber Browning machineguns, grease guns, Colt .45 ACP 1911s and M1 Carbines.
I spoke with Senior Master Sergeant Pete Piazza (retired) at length about what the Sky Cops (as they were lovingly dubbed) endured from 1966-72. Piazza served three tours of duty in Vietnam as an AP and then as a SP. He witnessed ﬁrsthand the Air Force go from no real idea of how to defend a base to being awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Bien Hoa Air Base on Jan. 31, 1968, during the Tet Offensive.
Piazza took charge of his bunker when his leader, Capt. Maisey, was killed by a rocket. A staff sergeant at the time, he spent the next eight hours running through heavy machinegun ﬁre, rockets and sniper ﬁre to keep his men fully supplied with much-needed ammunition and water. Piazza was quick to educate me on a couple of little known facts.
“Ninety percent of the SPs that were at Air Force bases when Tet started had never seen combat,” he told me.
He also said something that intrigued me: “The Air Force was the only branch of the service that didn’t have one of their bases overrun by the enemy.”
Why was that? Men just like Piazza. But ask him and he’ll say, “I was just doing what everybody else was doing.” While humility is the true sign of a hero, I will have to disagree with Pete on this one. Silver Stars aren’t just handed out, especially to enlisted USAF airmen.
Undoubtedly, there were others who performed as bravely as Piazza did on that January day so long ago. I can’t possibly ﬁnd and speak to them all; some, including his direct supervisor, Capt. Maisey, were killed on that day and in the days to come as Tet raged on. Piazza certainly wasn’t part of any “chair force.” He was every bit an infantryman that day as Audie Murphy and Chesty Puller.
Ask any soldier and he or she will tell you: Whoever owns the night has the advantage. The SPs were some of the ﬁrst units in the Vietnam War to receive ANTVS-2 scopes, nicknamed “Starlight” because of their use of ambient star and moon light. These scopes were some of the ﬁrst real attempts at night vision and changed the face of war forever. The riﬂemounted scope gave the user night vision out to 400 meters, while a crew-served weapons version, the ANPVS-4, worked out to 1,000, and an off-weapon version, the ANPVS-5, allowed sight out to 1,500 meters. For those airmen who had them, night shifts became a little less nerve racking.
One asset was in great supply, and gave the SPs another advantage at night – military working dogs, MWDs or K9s. The Sky Cops would walk the perimeter at night with their dogs. The SPs couldn’t see any better just because they had a dog, but the dogs could sense the presence of intruders, and on more than one occasion they stopped enemy sappers before they had the chance to breach the perimeter fence. For whatever reason, the Viet Cong also had a healthy fear of these K9s and kept their distance as word spread of their presence on the air bases. At the height of the K9 program, in January 1967, there were 476 dogs deployed. The dog handlers carried a special version of the M16, called the GAU-5/A. It was shorter and allowed the handler to control the dog and ﬁre the riﬂe one-handed if needed.
It wasn’t until after Tet that the Air Force wrote its ﬁrst deﬁnitive, battle-tested, air-base ground defense manual to be used in the years ahead – especially during the Cold War.
THE MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT
On May 12, 1975, Cambodian naval ships captured the S.S. Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant marine ship, in international waters. Negotiations broke down and a rescue mission was planned. The closest unit with combat experience was the 56th Security Police Squadron stationed at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. After the CH-53 Knife helicopters plus some HH-53 choppers left the base, Knife 13 disappeared from radar 40 miles out. It is widely thought that mechanical issues caused the crash. All 18 security policemen and four crew members and a linguist died.
Moments before take-off, a picture of the ill-fated Sky Cops in Knife 13 was taken. Thirty minutes later all 23 passengers were dead. The image leaves a haunting legacy of sacriﬁce and how short life can be in a combat zone.
As the Cold War heated up, America’s nuclear arsenal followed suit. Most nuclear assets came under the purview of the USAF, and more speciﬁcally SAC. SAC was the brain child of LeMay and was arguably the best run major command in the Air Force. SAC operated bases for bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, as well as bases that
supported missile ﬁeld operations. These wings were subject to remarkably stringent inspections, the failure of which would result in the ﬁring of the senior staff of the wing.
The SPs were responsible for several missions on SAC bases: the protection of the weapons storage areas, where the nukes were stored; and the physical guarding of the B-52s and KC-135s, air refuelers, that were on “alert.” Being on alert required the aircrews to live in a special facility next to the aircraft. At the sound of the klaxon, the crews rushed to their aircraft and were ready for take-off to top secret destinations. The SPs guarded all of these locations, day and night, 24/7/365. At places like Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, guard duty tested one’s desire to be a cop.
Missile ﬁelds also demanded the attention of the SPs. These ﬁelds were vast and remote. Cops worked seven days straight, often living out of campers attached to the back of pick-up trucks. The missile ﬁelds weren’t located in tropical locales either. They were spread across states like Montana, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota. Working conditions for the cops were less than ideal; in fact, at times the conditions resembled the Arctic Circle more than the continental United States. But defend these locations the SPs did, and to this day, still do. In 1997 security police career ﬁelds of law enforcement and security specialist were merged into one ﬁeld and renamed Security Forces. This change gave the cops more ﬂexibility in manning assignments, as well as providing cross training.
MODERN-DAY WAR ON TERROR
The USAF’s modern-day Security Forces function even more like infantry units than the cops in the past. They have all the weapons of the infantry – the M240, M249B, M4, M9, M203, 81mm mortars and M24 sniper systems. They are the ﬁrst service to deploy female snipers and have now trained multiple women in this role.
The Air Force’s cops continue to become a “high speed, low drag” group. They have a squadron that is airborne qualiﬁed, stationed in Georgia. This group of cops even made a combat jump with the Army into Iraq. Air Mobility Command has also developed a group called the Ravens. In this group of Security Forces, airmen accompany aircraft into dangerous regions of the world where there is no on ground security for the aircraft. These men and women travel the world providing security for these USAF assets and serve as Force Protection advisors to aircrew members. Other major commands have similar.
The Air Force continues to change with the times. It just so happens that the “Sky Cops” are leading the way when it comes to installation, asset, nuclear and personnel security. The lessons learned in the Jungles of Vietnam and Thailand, as well as the lessons of the Cold War in Europe and the frozen missile ﬁelds and bomber facilities of America are the foundation under which the new generation of Sky Cops continue to grow and evolve. ASJ
STORY BY TROY TAYSOMIn 1947 the world was rebuilding after the most devastating global conflict we’ve ever known had ended. The importance of air power had been proven with the destruction of Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Berlin and Hamburg. The importance of owning the skies above the battlefield led our nation to form a new branch of the military; on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force was born.
AT THE END OF WWII, Major General Bennett E. Meyers, in charge of procurement, fell victim to one of the seven deadly sins – greed. He saw how much money was being spent and how little oversight was present, and took advantage of his position. An anonymous letter floated around the military and the FBI for years, written by a junior-ranking officer explaining what this general was up to. Legend says that the letter remained largely ignored because of unclear jurisdictional matters. The letter finally saw the light of day during Senate hearings, and exposed the inadequate system that the Air Force had for such investigations. In April 1948, this Senate committee made a recommendation: “A competent investigative unit should be established at once to act as a watchdog over the huge and continuing expenditure of public funds by that important arm [Air Force] of the military establishment.” OSI was formed with a three-pronged dictate: investigate fraud, criminal activity and perform counterintelligence.
AFOSI FUNCTIONS MUCH LIKE the FBI, but only within the confines of the mission of the Air Force. Special agents (SA) don’t wear uniforms and rank is hardly spoken of. AFOSI reports directly to the Inspector General of the Air Force, and is not beholden to base and wing commanders like all other Air Force personnel. It’s not because they are privileged or entitled; it’s to ensure a safety gap exists in the event that the base or wing commander is the one under investigation. This separation ensures that rank is not used to intimidate the enlisted agents as they investigate potential crimes.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the number one requested career field by newly commissioned 2nd lieutenants is pilot training. However, it may surprise some that the second most requested field is OSI. The amazing thing is that the field has less than 3,000 agents and just over 300 of those are officers. The majority are enlisted personnel, followed closely by civilians.
SAs go through a rigorous selection process that includes an exhaustive background investigation, an in-depth polygraph and then basic federal agents’ school in Glynco, Ga. After basic training, the SAs split off into their own OSI academy to learn the capabilities and pillars under which OSI operates. According to OSI, their cornerstones are:
• Vigorously solve crime;
• Protect secrets;
• Warn of threats;
• Exploit intelligence opportunities;
• And operate in cyberspace.
AGENTS HAVE A PLETHORA of weapons they use in the field. From the early 1950s until the late 1970s OSI agents carried .38 Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special (which was renamed the Model 36) 3-inch revolvers. In the late 1970s, OSI decided to switch to the M1911A1 .45 ACP. They acquired surplus guns that the Navy had deemed unserviceable and customized them. The barrel and slide were shortened by three quarters of an inch and the frame by a half inch. The shortened frame required a custom-made, six-round magazine. Many agents praised the change to a better caliber, but the gun was plagued with slide cracks, failures to feed, as well as stove-pipe failures, according to one retired agent I spoke with. It is estimated that it only cost the Air Force $100 per gun to make changes to the .45s, making the project highly economical.
The Colt proved to be a good stop-gap between the old 3-inch .38s and the new 9mm adopted by the armed forces in 1985. Not long after the military adopted the Beretta M9, OSI started issuing them to the SAs. The M9 was liked by many and hated by probably just as many. For an OSI agent the biggest issue was concealability. The M9 was not designed to be carried as a concealed firearm. It was a battlefield back-up gun. OSI needed something more in line with their missions, including undercover investigations and protective details.
Ultimately OSI adopted the Sig Sauer M11, or P228 in civilian terms, just like US Army pilots and other aircrews. However, in November 2015, the AFOSI commander, Brigadier General Keith M. Givens, announced a new weapons policy, which allowed SAs to carry privately owned weapons (POWs) as long as they are on the list of 27 approved models. Brig. Gen. Givens explained, “One of the main driving forces behind this change was the desire to provide each agent the option to employ a weapon that best suits their individual body type and hand size for preference and concealment concerns. Now, OSI Special Agents will have that flexibility.”
Agents are also trained with the Remington 870 and the M4. Agents who deploy in counterinsurgency rolls have the chance to qualify with other weapons like the M203, M240 and M249.
Agents working protective details have used everything from Remington 870s with a folding steel stocks to Uzis and MP5s, depending on what part of the world they are in.
Once and SA has completed training they are assigned to a detachment somewhere in the world to undergo their probationary period. During this time a more senior SA will work with them on criminal investigations, including fraud, narcotics, sexual assaults, murders and any other serious felonies that present themselves.
AFOSI HAS A REPUTATION of working closely with their civilian counterparts. One famous incident involved three airmen from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The airmen robbed a hi-fi-type store in Ogden, Utah, a town close to the base. During the robbery they held several people hostage and committed heinous crimes, including forcing some to drink liquid Drano in hopes of killing the witnesses. When this didn’t work they shot each of the hostages. One man still didn’t die and they resorted to kicking a pen into his ear and choking him – he lived and crawled outside where he was found. A tip from a fellow airman led police to Airman Dale S. Pierre, then 21 years old, and Airman William Andrews, age 20. Evidence was recovered from a dumpster next to the base and with the help of OSI, a search warrant was issued and executed in the barracks. The stereo equipment was recovered, and the two stood trial and were convicted on multiple felonies including capital murder. Pierre was executed in 1987 and Andrews in 1992.
Former SA Nathan Sessler told me that during his time at Pope Airfield, N.C., he worked closely with the Fayetteville Police Department to learn more about street gangs. Street gangs wouldn’t seem to be a problem in the Air Force, but SA Sessler pointed out that the military is a microcosm of society – if society has it, the military has it too, just on a smaller scale. With his new training he was able to identify members within the Air Force and get the local police to verify gang membership.
In Texas, OSI found that members of the “Bloods,” a known and violent gang, had joined the Air Force and were working in the post office on base, using it to smuggle and transport narcotics.
OSI has always excelled at investigating fraud. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a chief master sergeant stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., was investigated for stealing flight-line generators and using them to help high-ranking officers build summer cabins in the countryside.
At around the same time a master sergeant working in a supply supervisory role was caught using government funds to furnish his private rental units. The investigation uncovered $200,000 worth of ill-gotten furniture, fixtures and equipment in his apartments.
DURING MY INTERVIEW with SA Sessler he mentioned a case where a topographical-map printer, valued at $13,000, was stolen from an air evacuation medical unit. The printer didn’t turn up until the spouse of an airmen was involved in a domestic battery. She told his commanding officer and police that her husband had stolen a printer from his squadron. SA Sessler went to the home to investigate and located the printer. What came next shocked the seasoned OSI veteran. The wife casually asked, “Would he (the husband) be in trouble if he had stolen other stuff from the Air Force?” “Yes, ma’am,” responded Sessler. She led him to the couple’s three-car garage that was packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall with stolen and misappropriated merchandise. The man was an E-7 with 19.5 years of service and was a unit purchaser with a no-limit government credit card. He showed his subordinates how to reconcile the books by simply selecting the approve-all button in the software. In 18 months the master sergeant had stolen $392,000 worth of material. His subordinates were charged with dereliction of duty and he received an eight-year imprisonment, loss of rank, forfeiture of pay and a bad-conduct discharge.
OSI has also jumped into the world of computer crimes as well as counterinsurgency. These crimes include everything from attempts to steal sensitive data to child pornography. SA Sessler was one of the agents who got a confession from an E-6 who had been creating and distributing child porn while stationed in the US. He was arrested at Pope AFB. Airman Nathan Wogan was sentenced to life in prison, thanks to the efforts of AFOSI agents like SA Sessler.
UNTIL 9/11, OSI WASN’T HEAVILY involved in counterinsurgency. During the war on terror many OSI agents were sent to the front lines to work human intelligence (HUMINT). This is no different than working narcotics cases with informants and insiders. In fact, OSI was able to get one of the most prolific improvised explosive device (IED) makers in southern Iraq off the streets. Several SAs had been discussing problems they were having in the area with IEDs. One of the agents suggested they work the case just like they would for narcotics. They did and worked their way up the ladder, so to speak, and were eventually buying directly from the IED maker, ultimately taking him into custody. After the operation, the number of IEDs in that area dropped to nearly zero.
In December of 2015, four OSI agents were killed doing counterinsurgency work in Afghanistan. Even though they are not considered front-line units like Rangers, Special Forces, SEALS and Delta Force, the job that OSI agents do is vitally important to the safety of our air assets and the lives of those who serve in the Air Force. Make no mistake, however, theirs is a dangerous job and always will be.
In OSIs 68-year history, they have lost 14 agents in the line of duty – four in that single day in 2015. ASJ
Editor’s note: Next issue, in part II of this series, we will profile other very important USAF law enforcement agencies that protect military assets and help keep our country safe.
Author’s note: Special thanks to the following retired OSI agents for their tremendous help with this article: Mike Brunson, Steve Rivers, Nathan Sessler, Michael Taysom, Bill Yurek and many others.