Avon Park Air Force Range, Fla. --
Day one, with no time to prepare for the challenges ahead, a team of four Airmen from the 823d Base Defense Squadron navigated through the darkness, each carrying a rucksack weighing at least 35 pounds, trying to beat the dawn, other teams and the 60-minute time limit.
With nine minutes to spare, Team 17 ensured every member made it across the finish line, conquering fatigue, sore muscles and the growing pains of becoming one team during Spartan Warrior week, a combat readiness exercise designed to push participants past their preconceived limitations.
“Right out the door, the ruck really challenged us to work together,” said U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Brian Marshall, 823d BDS NCO in charge of training. “I noticed a couple of times I was breaking away from the team and I had to take a step back and realize we needed to beat this together.”
The bond that was solidified during the ruck march set the tone and mindset for every challenge the team faced during Spartan Warrior week.
“We definitely bumped heads most on the ruck,” said Senior Airman Eric Purnell 823d BDS fire team member. “But, at the same time, we came together and did great. Wherever a person felt weak, another person was there to pick it up and make sure everybody was on the right page.”
The ruck march was one of many physical challenges to kick off the week, but upon arrival, every participating team had already been judged and scored on the accuracy of their mobility folders, efficiency in-processing through the mobility line and accountability of all items, which factored into their final score.
“It really supplied a lot of the training needed for when we do deploy,” said Marshall. “It was a good competition to measure where we were at, mentally and physically.”
The Airmen faced various challenges that targeted their expeditionary skills such as firing a pistol and rifle, an obstacle course, a nighttime land navigation challenge and self-aid buddy care scenarios. Cadres also evaluated Airmen on their functional-area knowledge including weather, base defense and tactical air-control party scenarios.
These skills are vital when Airmen deploy. A hesitation when providing care under fire or a forgotten step when plotting a course during land navigation and the less time a group spends together, the more frequent these hiccups become an occurrence.
“We all came together [as a team] out here,” said Staff Sgt. James Jackson 823d BDS support NCO in charge. “[Aside from Purnell and Law working together before] this was all of our first time working together. So, moving together tactically and knowing each other’s habits, strengths and weaknesses all came from the events we did here.
“I think that is what’s most impressive about the whole thing,” Marshall added. “We didn’t have any time to train together as a whole and we still came out here and [excelled].”
Another challenge the team faced was their diverse make-up. While their diversity provided different mindsets that made strategic planning a breeze, the team had people from varying career fields which challenged their performance.
The 820th Base Defense Group divided 12 Airmen into teams of four with one Airman from a different career field to level the playing field. However, most teams from other units didn’t have the same make up.
“The [other three members of our team] are cops and I’m the [odd one out],” said Jackson. But other teams consisted of four [tactical air-control party members].”
Rules also impacted those who could participate in various challenges. For example, Airmen who did not have the proper eye protection were not allowed to shoot during the rifle firing event during the expeditionary challenges.
An additional problem Team 17 ran into was having 46 other teams cycling through multiple training scenarios, which impacted the time allotted for their training.
Though time, or the lack thereof, presented problems and some challenges got the best of them, Team 17 stood firm in the face of adversity, came together and accomplished the events as one.