Story by A1C Megan Munoz on 03/27/2017Editors Note: This piece is one of several stories being shared in 2017 by the Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs Office in honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Air Force and those who selflessly have and continue to serve our nation.
Phoenix ravens are specially trained security forces Airmen dedicated to providing close-in protection for aircraft transiting to airfields where security is unknown or additional support is needed to counter local threats. There are more than 100 active-duty ravens assigned at Air Mobility Command bases nationwide, with only 8 percent of females making up this group.
"(The Phoenix Raven Qualification Course) was the most physically and mentally challenging course I have attended in my 26-year career," said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Cantrell, 628th Security Forces Squadron superintendent. "Historically, the raven certification course has seen a wash-out rate of 39 percent for females."
Joint Base Charleston is home to more than half of the female ravens in AMC, including Senior Airman Melida Keres.
"She is one of the hardest working ravens I have ever seen," said Tech. Sgt. Raymond Livingston, 628th SFS phoenix raven program manager. "She's just like one of us. Senior Airman Keres is the strongest raven, and not just because she's a female. She's very smart and squared away, in shape and always where she needs to be."
Keres was an airman 1st class when she became a raven in 2015. Ravens from the 628th SFS complete a 15-day training program here to prepare for the 22-day PRQC at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Keres was one of two females in her class.
Keres excelled despite being the youngest and lowest ranking student, she quickly became a team leader of approximately 25 NCOs. Students learn anything from cross-cultural awareness to unarmed self-defense techniques. Students are exposed to more than 70 use-of-force scenarios where stress is simulated using role players.
"I was really nervous going through the school," said Keres. "The other female was sent home the first day so all eyes were on me. The instructors are harder on the females because they don't want to lower the standard. Graduation hit me the most. I looked around and thought Wow, I'm the only girl in here.'"
Since graduation, Keres has been on more than 25 missions around the world. Keres said she never thought she would be traveling to countries like Greece and Singapore. One of the obstacles she has had to overcome is going to countries where men are valued more than women.
"Some of the countries we go to don't see females as equals to males," said Livingston. "She may be the one standing at the door of the aircraft where they have to talk to her."
This obstacle hasn't stopped Keres from being a dedicated raven, defender and Airman. To the 628th SFS phoenix ravens, Keres is just another member of the team.
"I'm just another raven," said Keres. "I've never been singled out by the team or have them think I couldn't do something. We're a family."
Keres said her mother was one of her biggest role models growing up. And today, Keres' mentor is Staff Sgt. Kristine Glenn, a PRQC instructor.
"I had heard a lot of stories about Sergeant Glenn before I left," said Keres. "Her name carries a lot of weight with me. Seeing that she could do it made me want to have people say the same thing about me."
Keres wants to challenge others to break stereotypes. Her next goal is to commission into the medical field before retiring from the Air Force.
"The biggest thing about being a female is to prove them wrong," said Keres. "It isn't easy. You have to work hard and show them you can do it. It felt like I got hit by a truck at tryouts, but my body got used to it. Don't let them think because you're a girl you can't do it."