JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-CAMP BULLIS, Texas --
Purple haze blocked the team’s view charging toward the white arch that hung over the finish line. Five miles of challenging dismounted operations obstacles had the team covered in mud and dripping sweat. Struggling to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, the Air Mobility Command team held onto each other as they took their last strides to the end.
This was the 2018 Air Force Defender Challenge.
“These guys are the best of the best of the AMC,” said Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Carpino, 6th Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge and AMC team coach, “They work very well together as a team, as one entity, as one unit.”
As the team crossed the finish line, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Everett, 436th SFS response force leader and AMC team lead, could taste the salt dripping down his face as he inhaled, trying to catch his breath. He sat on the bed of a blue pickup truck and as he came down from his adrenaline-rush tunnel vision, his coaches lifted off the 45 pounds of gear he had strapped to his body.
The AMC team was one of 14 teams representing each of the 10 Air Force major commands, the Air National Guard, the Air Force District of Washington and German and British Royal air forces. Each team is comprised of four members who competed against Airmen in their own MAJCOMs to determine who the best was.
This three-day challenge, dating back to 1981 is a worldwide Air Force competition that pits security forces teams against each other in weapons scenarios, dismounted operations and combat endurance tests.
The AMC team rigorously trained together for three weeks on the fields of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, preparing them for the competition.
“[The team] works off of each other’s strengths, they know each other's weaknesses and cover down on any gaps that they have,” said Carpino. “Each day, they come out more raring to go... As far as motivation goes, they have plenty to spend and plenty to give.”
On the second day of the competition, the team ruck marched through the muddy woods, bodies aching from the obstacles they had to complete throughout.
With the end near, Everett followed the GPS with the rest of his team close behind. As they approached the end of the woods, he looked up, greeted by a hill that stretched in either direction. Desperate to avoid the climb, Everett pointed the GPS in every direction hoping to find a different route.
“At [Joint Base MDL] we trained on low-level terrain, so these hills kind of took our souls,” said Everett. “It was rough but we made it through and persevered.”
Crossing the finish line at 2 hours and 41 minutes, AMC had 19 minutes to spare—earning the Sadler Cup for the fastest time in the dismounted operations course.
“I love the competition and it’s a good experience competing against other defenders,” said Senior Airman Anthony Hu, 6th SFS military working dog handler and AMC team member. “Everybody here is the best each MAJCOM has to offer so it makes it a challenge...It’s definitely been an eye-opener to see where I am physically and mentally and how I shoot against other world-class defenders.”
After all teams completed each challenge of the three-day competition, an award ceremony was held at the base theatre. The AMC team was awarded third place for weapons scenarios and first place for dismounted operations. The placements won each member and coach two medals and the team three trophies to bring home to AMC.
As the competition came to an end, all participants began to go their separate ways to their respective bases. The recommencing of the 2018 Air Force Defender Challenge after a 14-year hiatus brought a new sense of pride to the security forces community.
“I feel honored to have been in this competition,” said Everett. “To everybody else, I think they should try out the next time it happens. I'm glad I did it and I have no regrets… Regardless of win or lose, I'm happy I got the chance to be a part of something this big.”