A 5-foot-2-inch instructor burst from her bench to the center of a circle made up of Phoenix Raven candidates. From her seat, Senior Airman Kristine Glenn had observed how her trainee opponent failed to protect his face. To help him learn from his mistake, Glenn focused her attack to his head in a blur of fists.
Afterward, she noticed a bruise on her left thigh from the strikes the candidate landed in the one-minute fight. Even inside the RedMan training protective suit, Raven instructors feel the strikes of their trainees when performed correctly.
While the Armament Systems and Procedures (ASP) baton fight was meant to assess the candidate’s fighting ability as a potential Raven in the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course, it also reflected Glenn’s attitude toward obstacles in her life. Since childhood, she has attacked life with the mindset of a fighter; when she sees an obstacle in her way, she confronts it.
“I see myself as a fighter, in that I’m feisty; my mom calls me her little ‘Billy Badass,’” said Glenn, a Raven instructor with the 421st Combat Training Squadron at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL), New Jersey. She is one of only 15 currently active female Ravens in the Air Force.
“I’m really more of a lover than a fighter. But having all guy friends, brothers and being raised by my father, if need be, I think I can handle my own. I know that I take what I’ve been through in my past to help me get through obstacles. I always tell myself, ‘You’ve been through worse, so you can get through this.’
“Being a small female motivates me, knowing that I’m held to the same standards, if not higher, than my fellow male Ravens.”
Phoenix Ravens deploy with aircrew members on missions designated by the Air Mobility Command Threat Working Group. The teams protect aircraft, crews and cargo from criminal and terrorist threats while traveling through airfields where security is either unknown or inadequate.
With her mother out of the picture until Glenn turned 17, the future Raven grew up in a Wichita, Kansas in a household filled with men and led by a father who she said would have made a good drill instructor. Being raised by a father who treated her more like his “oldest son” prepared her for a military life, she said.
“I was always the type to be outside playing with the boys,” Glenn said. “If I fell down, I never cried or needed help to get up. I was always going to brush the dirt off and keep moving. There were a lot of times when I was alone when I was younger. I had a lot of time to think and grow individually as a very independent woman.”
Glenn joined the Navy to get out of the house, but a recruiting error enabled her to switch to the Air Force Reserve, then to active duty. When she began Raven training from the 87th Security Forces Squadron at JB MDL as one of two females in her class in 2012, Glenn felt quite comfortable. In fact, she thinks she would have only felt uncomfortable if she’d found herself in a group dominated by women.
“I don’t like when people label me as a female during training, especially in the military, because I’m an individual going through the same training as everybody else,” Glenn said. “So when I was treated like an equal in Ravens class, I actually appreciated it. I like to prove people wrong when it comes to the physical aspects of my life.”
One instructor misinterpreted Glenn’s quiet nature with an attitude, but at the end of the course, he told her she’d proven him wrong. Today, she has the respect of all of her fellow instructors, who see her as a younger sister, although she’s quick to assure them that she’s more than capable of taking care of herself.
“She’s the most dedicated and professional Airman the Raven community has to offer and she’ll be a chief master sergeant one day without a doubt,” said Tech. Sgt. Scott Benford, a Raven qualification instructor.
During her four years as a Raven, Glenn has flown more than 200 missions. In almost 20 years of the program, there have been less than 2,800 Ravens, with less than 150 in the Air Force on active duty. Becoming a Raven means becoming a part of a small, tight family.
“I call it a brotherhood because there are more males than females,” Glenn said. “But we’re all family, no matter when you went through (training) or what your Raven number is. If you’re a Raven, you’re my brother, or my sister.”
The mission pace was especially quick her first year, when she was only home for 60 days. Glenn’s first mission – to Tarin Kot, Afghanistan – was particularly memorable for the new Raven.
“When I first became a Raven, I thought that everyone was a terrorist and my first mission was very nerve-wracking, as far as what to expect,” Glenn said. “We got shot and mortared at. We shot off flares. I got to experience my first combat landing and combat takeoff. Because of the nature of where we were, we were allowed to take our weapons off the aircraft. That was my first mission.”
Her favorite mission was a flight accompanying an ambassador to Rwanda, where hundreds of refugees living on the flight line greeted the crew after the plane landed. Glenn blew kisses from the plane at refugee children running excitedly back and forth and waving back. The crew also gave water and other supplies for the refugees.
“It was heartwarming to see that, a real tearjerker,” Glenn said. “Just to see a country struggling like that and to know that we were doing things for them made me see we do have a hand in helping them.”
As a Raven instructor, Glenn has a similar approach with candidates, particularly those who struggle. While other instructors treat candidates like basic military trainees early in the course, Glenn is known more for her encouragement than for yelling.
“Come on, don’t give up on me,” she tells one trainee as she performs the exercises with him. “You’re letting me down. You can do it.”
Glenn’s candidate opponent in the ASP assessment, Tech. Sgt. Bryan Farmer, eventually passed his baton assessment, due in part to the lesson he learned the hard way from Glenn and the other instructors he faced during the RedMan fights. Two weeks later, Glenn watched with pride during the class graduation ceremony and then gave the 47-year-old a traditional pat on the back after he received his coveted Raven number.
“You earned it,” Glenn told him, just as she earned her own Raven number four years earlier.
To learn more about the three-week journey Farmer and his fellow candidates endured to become Phoenix Ravens, see the May issue of Airman magazine.