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A Raven with eagle eyes focuses sights on Brits

by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor

In the upcoming annual Atlantic Challenge Competition in May, marksmen from the Air Force will step into the international ring and battle the best the British Royal Air Force has to offer. Tech. Sgt. Fitzroy E. Howe, program manager for the 6th Security Forces Squadron Phoenix Ravens, is getting his game face on for the fifth time.

Born on the tiny speck of an island in the Caribbean named Dominica, Sergeant Howe made the trek to Boston, Mass., in 1987 to attend college. He joined the Air Force in 1991 as a member of the security forces and his 13-year career has included several competitions despite beginning with a mediocre shooting record.

"Fortunately I was a good runner," said Sergeant Howe with a bright grin. He recalled the coach in 1992 saying that he "…couldn't teach a man to run fast, but he could teach one how to shoot."

"Shooting is extremely technical. Over the years, I have taken techniques from different people and used what works for me," he said.

The competition isn't just about holding your breath and sq-u-e-e-e-zing the trigger though.

The Atlantic Challenge matches U.S. war-fighting skills against those of the RAF Regiment. Shooters earn points for each target they successfully hit with their standard-issue M-16A4 rifle. The rifles are modified with a flat-top upper receiver and an added scope to bring long-range targets into view. It's also fully automatic, unlike its A3 counterpart that has a three round-burst capability.

Sergeant Howe has come to know the weapon better than most ever will. Any five minute break during his work day gives him a chance to grab an M-16 and "hit the deck" to practice holding a prone shooting position.

"That way, when I'm actually competing, holding that position just comes naturally and I don't even have to think about it," he said.

It's that kind of dedication to perfection which made Sergeant Howe a natural candidate for the Ravens.

Air Mobility Command launched the Raven program in the aftermath of the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 that killed 19 Airmen, and the deaths of two Mongolian boys who stowed away in the wheel-well of a C-141 Starlifter.

Paired in teams of three or more, Ravens travel worldwide on board AMC transport aircraft to conduct site surveys, guard aircraft and protect aircrews in countries where airfield security is not up to U.S. Air Force standards, the menace of terrorism is unchecked and crime is rampant. Raven missions include hops to Algeria, Liberia, Columbia, Peru, the Philippines and many more locations that might be considered exotic, but potentially dangerous for America's finest.

"Sometimes when we travel with the air crew to a hotel or to dinner, the crew are relaxing and having a nice evening. But we are always very conscious of any possible threat," said Sergeant Howe, the small "crow's feet" around his eyes hinted at the many sleepless nights spent keeping vigil over a "bird" on tiny flightlines.

Not only must the Ravens protect and defend, they're also U.S. "ambassadors" and "diplomats" in countries that have little contact with Americans. That's the reason Sergeant Howe doesn't openly brandish weapons while on a mission. They're cleverly concealed or stashed just within reach.

His job is to avert confrontations, and when appropriate, repel, restrain and subdue. He only escalates the force he uses as the level of violence increases.

Highly trained in various forms of hand-to-hand combat, Sergeant Howe said the most effective weapon in his arsenal is his mouth. He called the technique "verbal judo," and said it's used to diffuse volatile situations without having to resort to more physical methods.

While he might be able to use his mouth to disarm a Mongolian goat herder in the jungle, the RAF will be brandishing more accurate weaponry than a Shepherd's crook or a sling shot. The Air Force team topped its competition last year and it just may be the eagle eyes of Sergeant Howe that prove to be the deciding factor in who takes home bragging rights in this year's Atlantic Challenge.




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