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Lightning Challenge strikes!

Annual event held after 15-year hiatus

Staff Sgt. Fernando Herrera, 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron, gives it his all during the Round Robin event of the Lightning Challenge 2019. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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A rather tired-looking Capt. Gerald Montgomery opened his eyes and said, "There is a great deal of respect that comes with this competition," the officer attached to Detachment 1, 20th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) said, "and the units represented here from around the world sent only their best TACPs."

TACP stands for Tactical Air Control Party, and it is the airmen who bring airpower to bear on a battlefield.

Last week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the 1st Air Support Squadron Operations Group hosted Lightning Challenge 2019.

"For the first time in over 14 years, we get to determine who the best TACPs in the Air Force are," said Col. Kenneth Boillot, 1st Air Support Operations Group (ASOG) commander.

Twenty two-man teams of TACPs assigned to Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Air Forces Europe, and the Washington National Guard, gathered to participate in the week-long competition.

"This has been a great challenge for us," commented Senior Airman Thomas Chavez, who is assigned to the 2nd ASOS.

"The competition between the best of the best makes us all excel."

First held at Hurlburt Field, Florida, in 1983, LightningChallenge soon became a much sought after event among TACP airmen, many of whom spend their entire careers stationed at various Army posts.

The 2019 challenge is the first to be held since 2005.

"What you do ... is going to set the bar for what excellence is for TACPs," said Maj. Gen. William Graham, I Corps deputy commanding general, last week at the start of the competition.

"There are a lot fewer names on the memorials scattered around JBLM and the rest of the Army because of what Air Force TACPs do."

The word "Lightning" is symbolic of the electronic means by which the TACPs provide command and control functions for close air support and the air-to-ground nature of the mission.

The word "Challenge" represents the competitive nature of the career field and the annual measurement of their combat skills and readiness.

For the 40 TACPs, the competition began with the new Tier II Operator Fitness Test, and from there it became more challenging.

The airmen were evaluated onjob knowledge and mission planning tests while also facing an obstacle course, medical evacuation, physical fitness events, marksmanship events, land navigation, a call for fire exercise, several survival simulations, field skills and a competition concluding 10-mile ruck march last Thursday afternoon.

"It has definitely been a challenge in competing with these other teams," said Montgomery's teammate, Staff Sgt. Ian Kramer.

"It has brought out the best in all of us, and that is what this has been all about."

The top three teams are as follows:

1st Place -- Team 3: Airman First Class Austin Fisher and Tech. Sgt. Stormme Leonard, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron

2nd Place -- Team 16: Tech. Sgt. Eian Andrew and Senior Airman Cameron Knight, 1st Air Support Operations Group

3rd Place -- Team 12: Special Operations (no names or ranks are allowed)

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