HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --
Six of the top Airmen from Air Force Materiel Command security forces units were selected to compete in the 2018 Defender Challenge, and two of those are from Hill Air Force Base.
Staff Sgt. Melvin Hale and Airman 1st Class Matthew Kopf, both from the 75th Security Forces Squadron, will be on the AFMC team, competing against 13 other teams from U.S. Air Force major commands, Great Britain and Germany in the first Defender Challenge since 2004.
The Defender Challenge, which takes place Sept. 10-14 at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis, Texas, near San Antonio, Texas, pits security forces teams against each other in realistic weapons scenarios, simulated dismounted operations and grueling combat endurance events.
The competition was resurrected by Brig. Gen. Andrea Tullos, Air Force Director of Security Forces, who said the event will determine the most lethal and ready security forces team, while increasing the competitive spirit and competency of the participants.
Tasked with preparing the AFMC team for competition are David Small and Ray Kelly, and they haven’t pulled any punches since bringing the team to Hill in August for several weeks of rigorous training.
“These guys haven’t had a day off since they got here,” Small said. “Some days, they are up at 4 a.m. and we don’t finish working them until 8 p.m.”
Training has included a lot of physical conditioning, such as running, ruck marching, and swimming, as well as weapons and shooting challenges, dismounted operations exercises, and combat readiness and expeditionary skills challenges.
“The training is probably similar to what they’ll see in the competition,” Kelly said. “Our job is to make sure there are no surprises and that they don’t see something they haven’t trained for.”
Small said training in Utah’s high altitude will hopefully give their team a slight advantage when they drop to the lower elevation of Texas. He also said Hill offers a hot, desert climate similar to what they’ll face at Camp Bullis.
Small said one of the biggest reasons for choosing Hill as the training base is its great facilities, such as the nearby Dugway Proving Ground and the Utah Test and Training Range, and Hill’s Base Operational Readiness Training Area, or BORTA, which all offer specific and unique firing courses that provide better training opportunities than an indoor firing range.
Small said the facilities have been everything they’d hoped for, but what has made Hill an excellent choice for training has been the support from base personnel, who have eagerly dived in to help ready the team.
“The staff at Hill has been tremendous and the support we’ve received has been phenomenal,” he said.
“The instructors and support team went well above and beyond to build strong courses and show us different looks to help ensure that our team is prepared for competition.”
Small said he expects his team to have a strong showing in the competition, a sentiment shared by members of the team.
“Nobody really knows what to expect, but I think we have a decent shot at winning,” Kopf said.
“We have a good chance,” he said. “We have some great guys with some good experience and a lot of heart. I think that’s what it will come down to, who has the most heart.”
Other Airmen selected to the AFMC team:
Master Sgt. Leif Gisselberg, Air Force Research Lab, Det. 15, Hawaii
Tech. Sgt. Jakob Haase, Tinker AFB, Okla.
Tech. Sgt. Chad Hardesty, Edwards AFB, Calif. (alternate)
Senior Airman Elijah Strafford, Edwards AFB, Calif. (alternate)
For more information about the Defender Challenge competition, visit https://www.afsfc.af.mil/Home/DefenderChallenge/