SAN ANTONIO – For the first time in 14 years, the U.S. Air Force Defender Challenge is returning to Camp Bullis. It’s a 14-team competition that consists of four people per team racing in events ranging from physical challenges to marksmanship.
KSAT 12 had a firsthand look at what this competition looks like.
Q: What’s the point of the Defender Challenge?
“Competition makes us better at everything. This is about getting the experts together. We practice all the training we have given them, and sometimes, you don’t appreciate what the training means until you put it up against something and you get scored on it. You see how good your peers are at it and it makes you want to be better,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Bradley Spacy.
The physical endurance portion of the competition included a quarter-mile run, physical fitness tests, then about a 50-yard sprint with 80 pounds worth of cans, all leading up to a long range shot and more tests if you don’t hit the target. It’s difficult, but it's worth it.
“There is also a camaraderie and a synergy you get from just being together. We need this for any team,” Spacy said.
Q: Why has it been so long since the last challenge?
“The hiatus was driven by mission requirements, and we just didn’t have the manpower to keep up the deployment rates and keep up the competition,” Spacy said. “We have the manpower now where we can carve it out, and I think we are going to see the benefits.”
This was the first competition for a large portion of the airmen, and it seemed far from easy.
“The weapons competition, you’re huffing and puffing and they decide to throw weapons in with the physical relay. The front sight, you are trying to control your breathing,” Staff Sgt. Krysten Bonillas said.
Q: This isn’t just American teams, and technically the Royal Air Force from England are the reigning champs, does that make things more competitive?
“They just happened to win before it went away for 14 years. That just gets us closer with our partners. We are in the field. We fight with them in the field. We want to train with them; we want to compete with them,” Spacy said.
Regardless of how these teams finish, Spacy said, everyone is learning and getting better, and the hope is this won't be the last of the challenge.
“This is great for the Air Force. This is great for America,” Spacy said.