Editor's note: Joshua Williams’ story: Part 7 of Gunfighter Defender Series.
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – When the skies darkened and war was waged in the Middle East, he raised his hand to take the fight away from American soil.
When Hurricane Katrina’s brutal winds pounded down on the Gulf Coast leaving cities and towns ravaged, and people homeless and starving, he sprinted at the opportunity to board an Air Mobility Command aircraft and zoom down to help.
Some may call him a hero, but the humble former Phoenix Raven Joshua Williams will have none of that, he’s just “proud to have spent 12 great years in the Air Force” … so far.
Williams, a 366th Security Forces Squadron investigator from Palatine, Ill., is still on active duty, though his specialty doesn’t publicly use rank in the line of their duties.
Prior to being stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Williams was part of the 786th Security Forces Contingency Response Group based at Sembach Air Base, Germany. Before that, he was stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
All Ravens earn their coveted Phoenix Raven patch after completing an intensive course at JB MDL, covering subjects such as cross-cultural awareness, legal considerations, embassy operations, airfield survey techniques, explosive ordnance awareness, aircraft searches and unarmed self-defense techniques.
Ravens were founded in 1997, and consist of teams of specially trained Air Force security forces personnel dedicated to providing security for aircraft and personnel transiting high terrorist and criminal threat areas, said Williams.
Ravens also perform in-lieu-of missions for conventional Special Forces, said Williams, who has deployed as a Raven to a wide array of countries in South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
“The Phoenix Raven program ensures an acceptable level of close-in security for aircraft transiting airfields or personnel with special missions where security is unknown or additional security is needed to counter local threats,” said Williams. “It was a great experience where I got to travel and see 82 percent of this great earth.”
While the M4 Carbine is the preferred weapon on the battlefields of Afghanistan and elsewhere, Williams’ first line weapon as a Raven was verbal judo, which he could quickly escalate to his advanced Krav Maga (Israeli marital arts), combatives, or one of many firearms he could be armed with, depending on the situation.
Williams’ personal rule is faith first and patience second. In an unorthodox situation or when violence is perceived, Williams said his training kicks in and he’ll “quickly use the right amount of force and persistence to live, learn, and succeed.”
According to JB MDL Public Affairs, no aircrew member has been wounded or killed, nor has any aircraft under the care and protection of Ravens.
Some Defenders credit the Phoenix Raven program with providing them incomparable opportunities.
As a Raven, Williams got the opportunity to work legacy missions with the Tuskegee Airmen and escort elected officials like then-Sen. John McCain, and other U.S. and foreign diplomats.
As a Gunfighter, Williams said he’s part of a fantastic squadron led by an amazing commander who promotes unparalleled camaraderie.
Still, Williams admits he often thinks about the days as a Raven, the days when he and small teams would fly to foreign and often hostile lands. It’s those days when Williams often remembers Peter Midura, or "Petey," a fellow Raven who separated the Air Force to pursue his goal in U.S. Navy Special Forces.
Williams recounts Petey and two others as perhaps his closest friends to this day. The other two, Tech. Sgts. David Tlumac and David Troche, are still at JB MDL and are both active in the Raven program.
"Being a Raven is something I take great pride in and it is a unique experience that separates me from the rest of the career field," said Tlumac, deputy project manager for the JB MDL Ravens. "It has given me a broader scope of the Air Force and Department of Defense missions and operations and ensures a lot of different experiences that I would not get in security forces."
While the Raven training program is conducted at the United States Air Force Expeditionary Center at JB MDL, Ravens are assigned to other AMC and U.S. Air Forces in Europe bases for assignment with deploying aircraft and crews.
Ravens training isn’t specific to U.S. Air Force Defenders. In fact, it’s available to service members from all branches of the military, Department of Defense and foreign nations.
"Candidates must have their commanders' approval and score a 90 or better on their physical training test in order to volunteer for the Raven training," said Troche, AMC Raven program noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "Since 1997 to the present, we have graduated 2017 Air Force Security Forces Ravens with a total of 570 service members washing out of the program."
Graduates from the course include more than 220 members from the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Federal Air Marshal Service. Air Force Ravens are issued an individual lifetime numeric identifier upon completion of the course.
Like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier badge, the Raven number is a unique identifier that recognizes an individual who has earned the rights to wear the prestigious badge or patch through their actions and accomplishments.
Though his duties have changed, and will continue to evolve as he climbs ranks and leads more junior Defenders, Williams said he’ll always proudly remember his time as a Phoenix Raven, and will forever be Raven No. 1373.
(Pascual Flores, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)