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Helos go gear-up for Guardian Challenge

Helicopter crews from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., Minot AFB, N.D., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., competed May 9 - 11 for the Air Force Space Command annual Guardian Challenge. (Courtesy photo)

Helicopter crews from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., Minot AFB, N.D., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., competed May 9 - 11 for the Air Force Space Command annual Guardian Challenge. (Courtesy photo)

A flight engineer guides the pilot through the course. (Courtesy photo)

A flight engineer guides the pilot through the course. (Courtesy photo)

CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. -- Helicopter crews from all four Air Force Space Command helicopter units converged here May 9-11 to compete in the command’s annual Guardian Challenge competition.

Crews from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., Minot AFB, N.D., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., began competition on May 9 with a navigation event.

This low-level, tactical mission is an event representative of the units’ day-to-day operations, requiring crew of three—a pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.

Inclement weather forced three crews to delay their participation in the event, leaving only the Malmstrom crew able to fly their scheduled mission.

The next day’s weather was better for the challenge, which began with the second event, the hover competition. This competition measures the crews communication skills as the flight engineer guides the pilots through the course—a six-point obstacle course through which the crews have to carry a five-gallon bucket filled with water. Crews must fly forward, backward and sideways—skills needed in complicated or diverse missions.

“Crews have to complete the course between 6.5 to 10 minutes maximum,” said Major Ken Bourland, chief, helicopter tactics. The maximum time allowed prevents the teams from taking the entire morning to slowly work their way through the course, and it adds a little stress to the challenge, he said. “The minimum prevents the teams from skipping gates and going straight to the finish.”

“There are six evaluators on the ground monitoring the number of times the bucket hits the ground and ensuring the bucket makes it through the obstacle cleanly,” Maj. Bourland said. “Overall the competition tests mostly basic, but some advanced helicopter skills. It also provides a rare opportunity for our units to compare how they’re accomplishing similar missions at their respective home units.”

This is the first year the competition has been held at Camp Guernsey. According to Brig. Gen. Thomas Deppe, commander 20th Air Force, the move was initiated to save funds and “to use a range that is perfectly suited for this event.”

The helicopter crews take more than just a sense of healthy competition away from the event.

“We get to practice our tactics, techniques and procedures and look for better ways to do business,” General Deppe said. “Many improvements have been made as a result of past Guardian Challenges. Every year we learn something new we can use in our day-to-day operations.”

The results of the 2006 competition will be released at the Guardian Challenge score posting event to be held Aug. 18 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.