Raven Claw: The end is just the beginning for CAA students

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Three times a year, the 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron hosts a five-day culmination exercise in which combat aviation advisor students are put in “Palmetto Land,” a simulated partner nation, to teach and conduct missions at various locations on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Eglin Range, Fla., Duke Field, Fla., and Hurlburt Field.

Raven Claw is the capstone of the combat aviation advisor mission qualification course that ensures students are ready to execute global missions once assigned to their units. Combat aviation advisors are trained and tasked to assess, train, advise and assist foreign aviation forces in special operations air mobility, combat support, fixed wing armed precision strike and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“The course is designed to give students the right amount of field skills, specifically in tactical force protection, dynamics of defensive driving, tactical combat casualty care and small unit tactics,” said Tim Dodge, chief of training with the 371st SOCTS.

Throughout Raven Claw, students faced different scenarios such as providing casualty treatment for local civilians, handling potential human rights violations and reacting to improvised explosions during nighttime operations.

“The tactics they’re expected to execute during their missions, we try to capture during training events at this course, so when they see it downrange they have already been exposed to it,” Dodge said. “We try to give them enough time to learn how to deal with different challenges they’re faced with prior to them seeing it on their mission.”

The pipeline to becoming a CAA varies from 12-18 months, depending on the combat aviation advisor’s specific job and assigned region-specific language.

Upon graduation, students are assigned to one of four units -- either the 6th Special Operations Squadron or 711th Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field or the 5th Special Operations Squadron or 371st SOCTS at Hurlburt.

“One of the great things about being a CAA is that it’s a global reach community,” Dodge said. “Combat aviation advisors are asked to deploy and work by, through and with partner nations worldwide.”

Students attending the course come from a variety of Air Force specialty codes including pilots, maintainers and communications specialists.

“The course provided numerous challenges to all of us future CAA’s. It was a combination of physical stressors along with mental stressors,” said John Hickman, a CAA with the 6th SOS and graduate of Raven Claw in April, 2017. “It was frustrating at times, but our team was a great combination of AFSCs, personalities and complete motivation.”

Enduring the struggles of Raven Claw helps CAA students develop a mindset important within Air Force Special Operations Command.

“We talk about how we train Air Commandos, and we talk about making the next generation combat aviation advisor. What we teach them and what I want to leave them with is that an Air Commando is an adaptable mindset,” Dodge said. “They’re ready to change, they’re ready to be molded, and they’re adaptive to whatever country is going to throw them a curveball.”