By Scott Prater
Temperatures hit 90 degrees the morning of June 26, but the sizzle of summer couldn’t stop 50th Security Forces Squadron Airmen from competing in the inaugural Defender Challenge competition here.
Six teams of four security forces members stepped up to the challenge, which tested strength, endurance, strategy and mental toughness.
Each team member carried a 45-pound ruck sack during a timed hike. If that wasn’t enough, teams were required to complete a shoot house challenge and six grueling obstacles spread throughout the 6-mile course.
During the shoot house event, teams took out specific enemy targets while avoiding friendlies. From there, they donned their ruck sacks and started the hike.
The first obstacle involved moving two 100-pound suitcases up a 100-meter hill.
Senior Airman Bradye Bursiaga, Darius Wallace, Jonathan Vargas and Landell Brown started the challenge second.
“Dragging those 100-pound suitcases up that 100-meter hill killed our quads,” Wallace said. “Simply holding onto them was awkward and the rocky and sandy terrain added to the challenge. But, we helped each other and made it through. I think it was tough because it was the first obstacle we hit and our adrenaline hadn’t kicked in yet.”
Roughly a mile later, they encountered their second obstacle, a litter and a 185-pound dummy, which they carried for 100 meters.
“The Defender Challenge was designed to simulate combat stresses,” said Master Sgt. Richard Gephart, 50 SFS NCO in charge of training. “The 100-pound suitcases, for instance, simulated moving ammunition, while the buddy carry simulated moving a wounded team member to a safer location.”
At the 3-mile marker, teams flipped giant tractor tires 10 times and after their fourth mile, they executed a fireman’s carry, where they carried one team member for 50 meters.
“The obstacles really took a lot out of you,” Bursiaga said. “But the hike worked as sort of a break for us. Eventually, your heart rate declines and you get your wind back. That’s when we were able to have fun again.”
Bursiaga, Wallace, Vargas and Brown, who represented the squadron’s Bravo Flight, blew the field a way, finishing in 1 hour, 39 minutes, nearly five minutes ahead of Lt. Col. Jasin Cooley’s second-place team.
“The key to our success stemmed from how close we are,” Bursiaga said. “We all arrived here at the same time, we’ve deployed together and have been friends for almost four years now. We passed the time between obstacles by telling jokes and stories, listening to music and even singing. The time flew by. We hardly noticed it.”
With a searing mid-morning sun beating down on them and little if any breeze [an oddity for Schriever] teams hit the mile-5 obstacle, where every team member bear crawled for 25 meters.
Their work wasn’t done, however. They each hiked one last mile and finished by completing as many team pushups as possible. And, these were no ordinary pushups. With each member lying on the ground, they made a square shape and rested their feet on the back of their teammate in front. Lowering and rising as one unit, Bravo Flight completed 13 pushups.
They earned extra points by recalling a list of 10 items placed in front of them before the shoot house challenge. Fatigued and out of breath, the Bravo Flight team recalled all 10 of the items.
With the victory, Bravo flight team members split $100 in booster club provided funds, which they could spend however they wanted, though they hinted the money would likely go back to the squadron to help fund future events.
“Beyond the training value and simulated combat stress, this event helped promote unit cohesion and esprit de corps,” said Cooley, 50 SFS commander. “The competitors were forced to capitalize on individual strengths and counter individual weaknesses in order to complete the obstacles and tasks. This event proved to be very popular and we hope to repeat it in the fall.”