by Tech. Sgt. John Tomassi
16th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFPN) -- More than 30 tactical air control party teams descended upon Hurlburt Field Oct. 17 to participate in Lightning Challenge '99.
The 13th annual weeklong competition, hosted by Detachment 1, 334th Training Squadron, tests the operational and combat abilities of tactical air command and control specialists.
The squadron is home to the technical school, which prepares airmen for duty in tactical air control party teams assigned to Army ground-maneuver units. A team's mission is to advise and assist unit commanders on the applications of combat air power from planning, requesting and directing air strikes against enemy targets in close proximity to friendly units.
Each team was made up of two representatives from TACP units assigned to Army posts around the world.
"The competition gets me spun back up on equipment I don't normally use and keeps me proficient," said Tech. Sgt. John Knipe, a TACP from the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colo.
Knipe, who is one of only two technical sergeants in the competition, competed for the 6th time and said the experience he gains here is invaluable.
"Every skill used here could possibly be used sometime in the field. You never know what skills you're going to need until the time arises," said Knipe. "Then you think, 'I remember doing something at the competition in '94 that worked.' And those kinds of things help out."
During the competition, the teams were subjected to 20-mile road marches wearing 50- to 60-pound rucksacks. They were tested on performance skills on ground radios and global positioning systems, range estimation and vehicle identification while wearing night vision goggles, job knowledge, close-air support mission planning and weapons firing. They also had to complete an Army physical fitness test and construct a field expedient radio antenna using sticks, plastic spoons and wire.
"And all of this was done at night," said Tech. Sgt. Eric Kibby, event coordinator and instructor supervisor at the detachment. The teams spent four days in the field, sleeping during the day and, with the exception of negotiating the school's obstacle course, performing the events at night.
According to Senior Airmen Tony Shrader and Jason Meinders of the 3rd ASOS in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, the training they receive during the competition introduces them to equipment and techniques they don't normally use.
"Working in the cold weather, we have to be prepared for different scenarios," said Shrader. "Cross-country skis and snow shoes are the norm for us. This competition keeps us proficient on equipment we don't use in Alaska."
For Staff Sgt. Gary Knowles, a ranger TACP assigned to the 8th Air Support Operations Flight at Fort Lewis, Wash., the competition was an opportunity to bring camaraderie and new ideas back to his home unit.
"I'm assigned to the special operations unit there," he said. "We work a lot with Hurlburt Field aircraft, practicing fire support, force protection and fast rope insertions."
This year's event focused on teamwork and night operations, according to Kibby.
"These guys are hard-core," he said. "They're competing with countless blisters, a broken bone in a foot, a scorpion sting and 12 stitches. They don't give up."
The competition ended with a banquet where the week's competitors were recognized.
The final results of the competition were:
-- 1st ASOS, Ray Barracks, Germany; Senior Airman Nickolas Delpego and Airman 1st Class Dusty Hodges.
Close air support operations:
-- 25th ASOS, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Staff Sgt. Matthew Nugent and Senior Airman Charles White.
-- 19th ASOS, Staff Sgt. Brian Wilchenski and Senior Airman Jason Faley.
Job knowledge tests:
-- 604th ASOS, Camp Humphreys, Republic of Korea; Tech. Sgt. Dale Reves and Staff Sgt. Charles Crocker.
-- 15th ASOS, Senior Airman Kevin Labudde and Senior Airman Nathan Sandler.