MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- A two-day 35th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) Winter Warrior Challenge kicked off Dec. 13, 2017, during a thick snow storm at Misawa Air Base.
“I created the Winter Warrior Challenge based off the Pacific Air Forces’ (PACAF) Defenders Challenge that occurs every year in Guam,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Yurco, the 35th SFS Non-commissioned officer (NCO) in charge of plans and programs. “The competition covered mental and physical endurance, focusing on skills that Airmen are familiar with. The winter element helped Airmen be aware of the challenges cold weather brings, especially because Misawa has long, frigid winters.”
During the first day, teams of four completed mental and physical challenges, which included a course with various skills tests along the way, including weapons assembly/disassembly, land navigation, improvised explosive device recognition and close quarters combat tactics. Teams also completed a combat fitness test, including a 1.5-mile run with six calisthenics exercise stations.
The second day brought all 32 competitors to the firing range, testing their abilities to accurately fire an M9 pistol, M4 carbine and the M249 light machine gun. The day ended with a combative tournament that tested hand-to-hand combat skills.
“The combatives tournament was my favorite part of the competition because it’s unpredictable and truly places the participants in a stressful situation,” said Airman 1st Class Michael Kaiser, 35th SFS instillation entry controller special reaction team. “Overall, I had a blast. I enjoyed the competitiveness between my fellow comrades."
Yurco continued, explaining the goal is for the event to be a biannual occurrence to maintain their skills and a competitor pool for the PACAF Defenders Challenge. He hopes this will aid the 35th SFS in holding the title of the Defenders Challenge champions, which they won last year.
Simultaneously, on the other side of base, Military Working Dog (MWD) handlers took part in their portion of the competition. Geared with individual protective equipment, a M4 carbine and a ruck sack with water and veterinarian medical supplies, weighing around 55 pounds, the handlers leashed their respective MWD in preparation for their assessment.
The MWD teams were evaluated on six scenarios that included locating high-value targets, searching for explosive caches, physical stress and job knowledge. The first day included a combat fitness assessment testing teamwork, speed and endurance of the duos. The second day brought a night operations assessment where they were restricted to using only red or green lighting devices and night vision.
“More often than not, handlers had to overcome their own mental barriers to think critically in real time,” said Staff Sgt. Victoria Dames, the 35th SFS MWD trainer. “They were given external parameters to intentionally induce stress before the scenarios began. For example, they had a short time limit but a large area to clear while also having to navigate with a map while using night vision. The task itself was not difficult, but the additional factors created the need to think strategically.”
Despite the challenges of the events, the defenders accomplished each task with mental and physical strength and a “leave no Airman behind” mindset.
Senior Airman Alexia Hinkson and MWD Charly placed first among the MWD teams. Senior Airman Jared Shannon and Airman 1st Class Amber Ottinger, Airman 1st Class Michael Lex and Airman 1st Class Sergio Miranda won the overall competition.
“Competitions like this are a great tool for leaders to see what works and what doesn't,” said Yurco. “Everyone had fun and walked away with a better understanding of how they can improve or how they stacked up among their peers. The Winter Warrior Challenge not only helps them prepare for competition; it also hones real-world tactical knowledge, essential for an overseas security forces member.”