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TACP Airmen raise the bar at Cascade Challenge 2016

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon and Airman 1st Class Aaron Osbourne, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialists, rescue a simulated victim from a damaged vehicle during the causality evacuation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Fort Wainright, Alaska. The competitors had to transport the casualty to safety while in a simulated firefight with enemy combatants. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon and Airman 1st Class Aaron Osbourne, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialists, rescue a simulated victim from a damaged vehicle during the causality evacuation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Fort Wainright, Alaska. The competitors had to transport the casualty to safety while in a simulated firefight with enemy combatants. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon and Airman 1st Class Aaron Osbourne (bottom), 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialists (TACP), lift a simulated victim over a wall during the casuality evacuation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Fort Wainright, Alaska. The TACP Airmen ran through an obstacle course, rescued a casualty from a damaged vehicle, provided first-aid and evacuated the simulated casualty for the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon and Airman 1st Class Aaron Osbourne (bottom), 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialists (TACP), lift a simulated victim over a wall during the casuality evacuation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Fort Wainright, Alaska. The TACP Airmen ran through an obstacle course, rescued a casualty from a damaged vehicle, provided first-aid and evacuated the simulated casualty for the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Aaron Osbourne, a 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialist, checks his location during the land navigation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Competitors were given waypoints and navigated through the dense Alaskan wilderness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Aaron Osbourne, a 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialist, checks his location during the land navigation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Competitors were given waypoints and navigated through the dense Alaskan wilderness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialist, performs a grip strength test during a Battlefield Airman physical training (PT) test July 21, 2016, at Baker Field house on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The last challenge of the competition was for competitors to complete a PT test. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialist, performs a grip strength test during a Battlefield Airman physical training (PT) test July 21, 2016, at Baker Field house on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The last challenge of the competition was for competitors to complete a PT test. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force tactical air control party specialist Airmen from the 1st Air Support Operations Group, listen to a briefing for the stress shooting exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 20, 2016, at a practice range in Delta Junction, Alaska. During this event competitors had to shoot all the targets while dealing with weapon malfunctions in the allotted amount of time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force tactical air control party specialist Airmen from the 1st Air Support Operations Group, listen to a briefing for the stress shooting exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 20, 2016, at a practice range in Delta Junction, Alaska. During this event competitors had to shoot all the targets while dealing with weapon malfunctions in the allotted amount of time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Isaac Heustess, a 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, tactical air control party specialist, runs through the stress shooting course as part of Cascade Challenge July 20, 2016, at a practice range in Delta Junction, Alaska. Competitors had to perform maneuvers with the distraction of ambient blank cartridge blasts, simulating the stress of a live combat engagement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Isaac Heustess, a 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, tactical air control party specialist, runs through the stress shooting course as part of Cascade Challenge July 20, 2016, at a practice range in Delta Junction, Alaska. Competitors had to perform maneuvers with the distraction of ambient blank cartridge blasts, simulating the stress of a live combat engagement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon, a 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialist, checks his compass during the land navigation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Competitors were only allowed to use a compass to navigate to their destination. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Harpoon, a 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., tactical air control party specialist, checks his compass during the land navigation exercise as part of Cascade Challenge July 19, 2016, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Competitors were only allowed to use a compass to navigate to their destination. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Isaac Johnson)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --  

Walking through terrain consistent to a wet sponge for hours that seemed like days; their boots are soaked and feet pruned.

Dehydration sets in and cramping starts, but they keep going one step at a time because they know the pain is only temporary and there is a competition to be won.

This is some of what the tactical air control party specialist from the 1st Air Support Operations Group experienced at Cascade Challenge 2016.

“The TACP career field has traditionally done competitions over the years to bring together the tasked skills they’re trained on in a mission-oriented type of environment,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shane Horbrecht, the 1st ASOG chief enlisted manager. “They come to these competitions to help solidify the training they get.”

The Airmen who competed in this challenge are the best within their squadrons, and because of their skills they received the opportunity to prove they are the best within their group.

“From here some of these guys will move on to the Lightning Challenge which is a TACP overall competition in October of this year,” said Master Sgt. Shawn Leonard, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, project planner for Cascade Challenge 2016.

The competition included 22 events; one of the toughest being a land navigation challenge through dense Alaskan wilderness.

Competitors navigated through swamps and marshes for hours on end, soaked up to their knees at times while carrying a 50 pound rucksack and body armor.

Even through challenges like this, these Airmen performed beyond expectations.

“I had no doubt that they were going to perform awesome, but I didn’t expect what we got,” said Leonard. “Expectations were already high, but they went far above it.”

The events in this year’s Cascade Challenge allowed for little to no rest, they were tougher and longer than ever before. Even with their feet covered in blisters, their bodies sore and caked in dirt from days that most people would consider torture, these Airman pushed through the challenges with no complaints.

“Usually when you put them in these types of events there is a slight drop in motivation, morale is down and the environment is not always that easy,” said Leonard. “These guys never showed defeat; we never once witnessed it. They were constantly motivated, and every cadre, every instructor around here were like ‘these guys are nonstop,’ even in the worst situation.”

Even with their feet bloodied from days of rucking and navigating, these Airmen trudged on with heads held high. By the time the competition was over, the competitors sparked inspiration in their leadership.

“I want to be in next year’s competition,” said Leonard. “I haven’t done a competition in almost 10 years and I want to get back in, I want to be with these guys next year. I may not perform as well as they will, but at least I’ll be there with them— having the camaraderie they have and embracing the suck.”

It was a rough week. They barely slept and the competition challenged them both physically and mentally. By the end of the week, each battlefield Airman who had competed in Cascade Challenge 2016 left better than they arrived.

“Whether you do well or poorly on each event, you get a chance to go back and look at what you’ve done,” said Senior Airman Collin Skees, 5th ASOS TACP Airman. “Every guy out there is the best in their unit, and knowing that is a little intimidating, but it really pushes you to give a maximum effort against every single obstacle.”