by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — As the 21st Security Forces Squadron Guardian Challenge four-member obstacle course team drove to the U.S. Air Force Academy on competition day, they went over the course in their minds.
They talked about the 17 obstacles that faced them, and the rules and the safety issues that could jam them up as they competed for the best overall time and score.
“We said, ‘hey, these are the things we’ve got to think about, so out there we don’t have to,’” said Master Sgt. Frank Green, 21st SFS Guardian Challenge team leader.
The 21st SFS team was one of eight teams competing in the obstacle course at the 2010 Guardian Challenge, Air Force Space Command’s premier space and cyberspace competition at Peterson Air Force Base May 19 to 22, with the security forces obstacle portion of the competition at USAFA May 19. Air Force leaders describe Guardian Challenge as capturing the essence of competition through rigorous evaluation.
Everything about the obstacle course at USAFA, one of three on the base, was rigorous. The 40 days of training leading up to the competition kept the 21st SFS team moving through the difficult course. Senior Airman Ben Drake, 213th Space Warning Squadron, Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, where the highest altitude is less than 800 feet, said running for miles in full uniform was the best training.
“I got off the plane and the next day we were running seven miles,” Airman Drake said. “I’m not going to lie, it was rough. I was about to pass out.”
Led by Sergeant Green, the team ran in the mountains three times a week and worked out every day.
“We did a lot of pull-ups, a lot of sprinting,” he said. “We had the luxury of being able to train at altitude and above the competition altitude.”
Out on the course, there was no hesitation. The four-member team flew through the challenging one-mile obstacle course that tested physical endurance.
“It is physically and mentally challenging,” said Master Sgt. Chad Schulte, Air Force Space Command security forces squadron and Guardian Challenge NCO obstacle course manager. “It challenges both upper and lower body, and it also challenges technique, as far as you might use in a combat situation.”
The 21st SFS team members went over logs, under logs and swung on ropes landing on a beam, careful to maintain their balance. They climbed log walls leaning toward them, then climbed cargo nets and raced up logs straight uphill. Then, they got to “the weaver obstacle.” On their backs they weaved in and out of logs.
“I consider this the most physically demanding,” said Sergeant Schulte, who used to compete on the obstacle course. “It challenges your entire body and (relies on) technique. You have to have good technique, or you will go really, really slow.”
Marcus Green, 7, son of Sergeant Green, watched from the sidelines. About half way through the obstacle, the team reached a staggered wall, with a series of steps at two feet, seven feet and 12 feet, simulating climbing a wall or building in an urban area.
“I definitely thought the wooden one was cool,” Marcus said about the staggered wall. “I thought it was just sort of like steps, but it wasn’t.” He liked watching his dad compete and said: “he’s pretty good, I guess.”
After the staggered wall, the team went through a 45-foot long crawl space that had them in a low crawl, bodies to the ground. Sand in their faces and pants scuffed, they emerged from the crawl to head down hill and toward the last few obstacles – monkey bars, a pyramid, and hand-over-hand rope crawl over a pit of water.
Finally, they picked up a litter with a 125-pound mannequin and sprinted one quarter of a mile to the finish line to cheering fans. One of those fans was Veronica Delgado, who flew in from San Antonio to watch the security forces portion of Guardian Challenge. Her late husband, Tech. Sgt. Alvario Delgado, competed in the obstacle course five times before his death in 2005.
“He loved it,” she said. “So, knowing what they go through to train for a month, and seeing them compete, it’s awesome.”
The 21st SFS team did not disappoint. While the official times and scores are kept under wraps until the Guardian Challenge banquet and awards ceremony, the 21st SFS team “unofficially” finished in just over 12 minutes – by all accounts a very good time.
The tradition of Guardian Challenge began in 1967 when Strategic Air Command opened its first missile combat competition, nicknamed “Curtain Raiser.” In 1969, the competition was renamed “Olympic Arena” and remained under the name for 24 years. In 1994, it became known as Guardian Challenge and it was the first year space operations were part of the competition. This year is the first time the competition includes the integration of the cyber mission. Guardian Challenge 2010 concludes May 21 with an awards banquet in Hangar 140.
After the run, the photos with Iron Mike, the 21st Space Wing’s mascot, and the high fives, the 21st SFS obstacle course team members – Sergeant Green, Airman Drake, Airman 1st Class Jacob Villarimo, 21st SFS, and Senior Airman Walter Varey, 6th Space Warning Squadron, Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., caught their breath and reflected on the obstacle course.
“It’s a playground for big kids,” Airman Drake said. “It’s running, and jumping and climbing.”