Geared for combat

  • Published
  • By John Stuart
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Gunshots reverberated across the compound and several Airmen fell to the ground. The siege had begun and the objective was clear. Assume control of the center barrier and take the enemies out.

When the smoke cleared March 17, the fallen Airmen rose from the ground and dusted themselves off. The simulation was over and the training day concluded for a select corps of Airmen from the 3rd Combat Communications Group.

Cadre debriefed the 16 Airmen, assembled into two opposing teams at the Glenwood Training Area, and told them how to better accomplish the objective of the Tactical Team Movement exercise. It was just training for now, but in a few weeks it will be go time, and the combat communicators will have to step it up.

In 1996 a long-standing Air Force competition came to an unofficial halt. It was Combat Communications Challenge, pitting top Air Force communications groups against each other.

The competitions used to be fierce and the bragging rights of winning one a cherished commodity. Due to volume of deployments the competition temporarily stopped, but this year will see its return.

Since January, the Airmen from the 3rd Herd have diverted attention toward their training for the upcoming Combat Challenge on April 16-19. Individually selected from their squadrons, the Airmen are some of the finest in the group.

The Airmen are training full-time on tasks they'll be tested on in the competition. As the days roll on, morale increases and failure -- that is not getting first place -- is a four-letter word.

"For the Challenge we're looking to win," said 2nd Lt. Kenneth Sturgis, an engineer with the 33rd Combat Communications Squadron and No. 2 in charge of the Airmen's competition training. "At the guardian challenge anything less than a win is a failure on our part."

The 3rd CCG Airmen believe they're the best. But as they go head-to-head against four other communications groups, they'll have to prove it. They'll be up against three Air National Guard units from California, Hawaii and Washington and one active-duty group, the 5th Combat Communications Group, from Robins Air Force Base, Ga. All will be tough competition, but the 3rd Herd isn't scared.

"The 5th MOB, they are our nemesis and we will annihilate them," Lieutenant Sturgis said simply.

But the Airmen have a lot of work to do yet. They'll continue training on the various competition tasks such as physical training, vehicle tire changes, high and low crawls, tactical weapons courses, marksmanship and their meat and potatoes -- a timed, bare base communications setup.

There's additional pressure on the 3rd Herd to compete well. It's already a momentous event to resurrect the Combat Challenge, but what's more is that Tinker is this year's host.

All events except the marksmanship portion will take place at the Glenwood Training Area and as such, winning the competition is at the forefront for Tinker.

"It's a huge honor to host such an event because there's a rich history behind it," Lieutenant Sturgis said.

The Combat Challenge is part of the larger Guardian Challenge, put on bi-annually Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., each May. The top two winners of Combat Challenge at Tinker will travel to the Colorado base as a herald to their accomplishments. Being a subsidiary part of the Guardian Challenge is a distinct honor, Lieutenant Sturgis said.

"The 3rd Herd is proud to host the resurrection of the Combat Challenge tradition, under the umbrella of Guardian Challenge," said Col. Thomas "Tank" Byrge, 3rd CCG commander. "Combat Communicators looked forward to this competition for many years until it was cancelled after 1996 due to high tempo operations. This event will be a showcase of combat communications excellence and allow vital cross-flow between both the active duty and Air National Guard's best of the best."

Training for the Combat Challenge allows a unique opportunity for cross-squadron teamwork, according to one sergeant on the competition team.

"It fosters a sense of camaraderie and unit cohesion because we have guys from every different squadron," said Staff Sgt. Adam Benton, a network infrastructure sergeant with the 34th Combat Communication Squadron. "Working together as a team is good because all squadrons do things differently so it's good to come together and show them we can do it as a team and not just as squadrons."

The days and weeks of training ahead will dictate the outcome of the impending competition. As usual, the 3rd Herd is in position to succeed, anytime, anywhere.

"We're the best combat communicators in the country," Lieutenant Sturgis said. "We have the best group of Airmen, the best leadership and they've given us the opportunity to train to win and that's exactly what we'll do.