Hurlburt Field, Fla. --
Preparing Air Commandos to accomplish the Air Force mission worldwide can be an arduous task amidst the ever-changing global political atmosphere. However, the 492d Special Operations Wing prides itself on the innovation of training and development of SOF Airmen to handle any task at any time.
The instructors of the 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron joined operational Combat Aviation Advisors, commonly known as CAAs, to host the most recent iteration of Raven Claw at Hurlburt Field and Duke Field, Florida.
Raven Claw is the culmination exercise of more than 75 days of academic work, field training and briefings aimed at laying the foundation of principle and doctrine that governs executing similar missions in real world scenarios.
Pipeline students are immersed in a variety of counterinsurgency scenarios, all while simulating a foreign austere environment. This particular iteration had 17 students and they were tasked with assisting the fictional Palmetto Land forces in enhancing the tactical employment of its aircraft. Additionally, members participated in medical training and humanitarian assistance, all while the host nation was combating a fledgling insurgency.
The exercise simulates these environments for students by drawing on the real-world experience of active duty and retired CAAs, assigned to the 6th Special Operations Squadron, who craft scenarios based on real experiences brought back from the field.
“This training provides an opportunity for us to innovatively think on the fly,” said Lt. Col Sean Williams, Raven Claw participant and CAA student. “These are carefully orchestrated and synchronized scenarios that will provide a training that can’t be replicated in a classroom.”
Roughly 60 active role players and volunteers from throughout the wing acted as Palmetto Land forces, media or tribal leaders. Their job was to replicate a realistic interpretation of different cultures and operating procedures that may or may not align with the parameters of the assigned mission for the exercise participants.
“We wanted to make this exercise as realistic as possible,” said Mr. Damian Spaits, 371 SOCTS instructor. “That includes providing situations that are in some cases an impediment to the mission our Air Commandos are trying to accomplish. Their job is to navigate these situations based on the instruction that we provided and the mission guidelines provided to them in the scenario.”
From the onset of the exercise, participants were challenged with overcoming obstacles with officials of the Palmetto Land government. Upon arriving into the simulated host country, students were immediately challenged to navigate requests from fictional immigration officials, overcoming language and cultural barriers, ensuring they could in-process their equipment as needed.
“It was truly different,” said Tech. Sgt. Stephen Kreidler, Raven Claw participant and CAA student. “I think overcoming situations where there wasn’t common understanding made for some of the most difficult situations to navigate. This training will be truly valuable going forward.”
During these situations, cadre members assessed the team's ability to constantly balance U.S. interests with those of the partner nation as they communicated their teams mission and responded to initial equipment requests.
“We watch each student very closely,” said Spaits. “We do so to make sure each member knows how to respond to both comfortable and uncomfortable scenarios because that grey area is exactly how it is going to be when each of them operates downrange.”
Throughout the next several days of the exercise, role players challenged members to remain focused on their mission, while providing casualty treatment for local civilians, handling potential human rights violations and ensuring its simulated host nation partner acted in accordance with the ideals for which each Air Commando was sent to provide.
The students weren’t merely expected to engage with the simulated host nation partners during traditional duty hours. They were expected to continue building relationships with partner nation officials through various social interactions. This included dinner with military leaders and meeting host nation tribal leaders.
“Laying the groundwork for cooperation is a full-time job,” said Spaits. “We put extra emphasis in the exercise by building in scenarios that encourage our students to find creative ways to accomplish this key part of partnership building. How effective they are in building these relationships later determines how willing the partners will be to work with them moving forward in future scenarios.”
The exercise concluded with a surprise press conference hosted by their host’s senior leaders. Each member was tasked with navigating questions from foreign media agencies that ranged from operational details to politically sensitive topics.
“Adaptability is key,” Williams said. “You have to be able to navigate issues like the ones presented in press conferences -- both professionally and within our mission parameters.”
At the conclusion of Raven Claw, students will transition to the 6 SOS to shadow a senior advisor prior to becoming an operational CAA.