Wings of Change: McConnell Defenders Add First Female Raven

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class William Lunn
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Overcoming an injured tendon at the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course would only be one of many obstacles along the way that didn't stop Staff Sgt. Amanda Estores from becoming McConnell’s first female Raven.

“As a woman, I set aside any predispositions anyone might have about my gender each day, to protect people as a security forces defender,” said Estores, who serves as a patrolman for the 22nd Security Forces Squadron.

Estores recently returned to McConnell after graduating from the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course, taking her place as McConnell’s first female Raven, bringing a new sense of what is possible for Airmen who face adversity based on their gender.

“This continues to highlight the incredible work our female defenders do on a daily basis,” said Maj. Jeremiah Baxter, 22nd SFS commander. “It proves they can accomplish all aspects of combat scenarios they are placed in.”

Before the 1970s, women in the Air Force were barred from participating in any police or security duties. However, a pivotal moment occurred in 1971 when women were granted access to law enforcement specialist training exclusively at the Security Police Academy on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. This marked a notable shift in historical gender stigmas within the military.

In November of 2023, Estores took another step in breaking down that barrier when she graduated from Raven training.

The training is a four-week course at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, that focuses on enhancing the skills of Air Force Security Forces. Ravens are highly trained Airmen responsible for critical tasks, such as base security, protection of valuable assets and presidential missions.

“You are the security of the aircraft in austere environments,” Estores said. “Whether we land in an area that is built up or an airfield that is just a dirt strip, we’re the ones providing security for the aircraft.”

The training program strongly emphasizes physical fitness, mental toughness, and strategic thinking. Raven candidates must score a 90% on three standard physical fitness tests before being selected for a slot.

Ravens are also required to engage in hand-to-hand combat scenarios that include sparring with each other. They are trained in various martial arts including Judo, which primarily focuses on using holds and leverage to unbalance an opponent, bringing them to the ground.

Early in training, Estores suffered a setback. While sparring with other Airmen, she stepped back too quickly and partially injured a tendon in her foot. The injury was one that would typically result in removal from the course.

“I thought I had broken my foot in week one,” Estores said. “I was unable to comfortably do exercises without having a sharp pain in my leg. Although I would stay with the group during formation runs, the pain never stopped, but I knew I could push through to the end.”

Estores found her motivation through the encouragement of her family who supported her in joining the Air Force in 2016. Growing up in Orlando, Florida, Estores attributes her resilience to her mother, guiding her to have strength and grit even in the hardest of life scenarios. She says she still learns life lessons from her mother today. Her father also served as a big motivator for her to enlist, but he passed away before she joined.

“I think my dad would be proud of me for what I’ve accomplished,” Estores said. “He always expected me to be the one to go out and make something of myself. I think he’d be happy knowing the person I’ve become today.”

Estores not only has the support of her biological family, but also the family she has made in her squadron. Defenders develop a camaraderie through their rigorous training regimens, working together no matter the circumstances. The demanding nature of their duties further strengthens this close-knit bond.

“In most jobs you go home at the end of the day, and you don’t think about the people you work with, but I do,” Estores said. “As defenders, we go through all the same challenges together, we go down range with each other. We are a family.”

While on active duty, Estores also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Justice Studies from Grand Canyon University and plans on getting her master’s degree. With a passion for law enforcement, she plans on continuing this career path on the outside, using the skills she obtained from the Air Force.

Estores promotes joining the Air Force to anyone who is considering it. She tells prospective recruits not to let any doubts, fears, or anxieties about joining the military hold them back. Estores making history at McConnell opens the door for others, says her squadron commander.

“Having female defenders like Staff Sgt. Estores sets an example for all our young females to emulate,” Baxter said. “Her mentorship and leadership across our unit is key to our mission success every day. I wish I had more defenders just like her.”