Prize herd: 3rd CCG comes out on top in Space Command's challenge

Senior Airman Nathan Joiner, front, of the 3rd Combat Communications Group, looks for incoming enemies while teammate, Staff Sgt. Jared Conary, gives orders from behind during the tactical course portion of the security forces Guardian Challenge May 18 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert Talenti)

Senior Airman Nathan Joiner, front, of the 3rd Combat Communications Group, looks for incoming enemies while teammate, Staff Sgt. Jared Conary, gives orders from behind during the tactical course portion of the security forces Guardian Challenge May 18 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert Talenti)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- If you ask the members of the 3rd Combat Communications Group, their dominance was never really in question.

As the Combat Challenge ended at Tinker April 20 with the announcement of two finalists -- the 3rd Herd and 5th Combat Communications Group -- the Tinker combat communicators knew they had it in the bag. They just had to wait a month to have their suspicions confirmed. Turns out it was something that got better with age.

There were more than 20 3rd Herd personnel present at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., May 23 -- enough to make some noise -- when the 3rd Herd earned the Best Combat Communications Group of the Combat Challenge. For Staff Sgt. Jarod Williams, the Herd received three awards that day: Best Combat Communications Team, earned for successfully setting up the bare base communications station during the competition; the Best Communications Group award, and a third unexpected bonus.

"They announced that we won the Combat Communications Team award and we all just stormed onto the stage and made fools out of ourselves," Sergeant Williams said. "The (5th MOB team) was in the crowd crying a little bit. I think that was another award we got to see."

For Sergeant Williams, the Combat Challenge -- and four months of preceding training -- represents a pinnacle in his

six-year Air Force career. Part of the Air Force Space Command's Guardian Challenge, the Combat Challenge is steeped in tradition as a place where the premier combat communications groups compete.

Sergeant Williams started in satellite communications on the Minuteman III missile system, then switched to combat communications several years ago. He knew it was where he wanted to be and it hasn't disappointed.

The sergeant was one of several who split leadership roles for the 10-man team, which earned the top accolades. He won't forget standing on stage at the awards ceremony and holding the trophy aloft.

"This is by far the best thing I've been a part of," Sergeant Williams said. "It's taken a lot of work to get here but it's definitely been worth every second of it. When we got to go up on stage - look everyone in the face - and say we did it."

The 3rd Herd commander Col. Thomas Byrge had a similar mountain top experience.

"That was the single best event of my 25 year career, bar none," Colonel Byrge said. "Our Herd Airmen upheld the proud tradition of Combat Communications and of the 3rd Combat Communications Group, once again proving we are the best unit of any type in the U.S. Air Force."

Though faced with a rigorous training schedule, the Combat Challenge team began training in January for the April event, which was hosted at Tinker. Rigorous physical training and long hours accompanied the hand-picked post. But morale and determination never lacked. They won three of the seven events during the four day Combat Challenge which was April 17-20. On points, the 3rd Herd handily beat the 5th MOB, their nearest competitor.

"Everybody who was here wanted to be here and gave 100 percent every single day," Sergeant Williams said. "That's something very rare to see in a group that large. I couldn't have asked for a better group of guys."

Cops on top

When the dust cleared it was the proverbial security forces giants who were left scratching their heads, as the seeming underdog stood atop the awards podium. Few had expected such an outcome. Unless, of course, you were part of the 3rd Combat Communication Group.

Such was the case at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., May 17-20, as six 3rd Herd Airmen went up against seven formidable teams in the Security Forces segment of the Guardian Challenge. Hosted by Air Force Space Command, the "Cop Challenge" was a stretch for a combat communications group. Or so it would seem. But the Herd was clearly up to the task, learning new skills in just more than a month of training before the competition.
Several on the 3rd Herd team members had never fired an M-4 or M-9 before. Others had no previous experience in security forces tactics. But all members were determined, and all succeeded, placing second overall and first in the marksmanship portion against the active-duty security forces units.

Senior Airman Nathan Joiner won the top M-9 shooter award for the competition. He had fired the weapon a total of six times, including the day of competition.

"I would like it known that the 3rd Herd has the best shooting team in Air Force Space Command and it has the top M-9 shooter in Space Command in Senior Airman Joiner," said Senior Master Sgt. Bruce Turner, NCOIC for the team and a former security forces member.

With an expressed goal to simply improve in the security forces skill set - intense physical training, tactical maneuvers and marksmanship - the tight-knit team trained for about 45 days with staggering results.

At the competition, the 3rd Herd troupe battled altitudes of 6,000 - 7,200 feet while competing in the obstacle course and tactical course with 50 pounds of gear. To prepare for competition at altitude, they had trained while wearing gas masks, doing long-distance runs and sprints every day.

"I've been in the Air Force over 20 years," Sergeant Turner said. "This is third Guardian Challenge I've been in and this is the highest I've ever placed, and to do it with a bunch of guys who weren't security forces was pretty awesome."

The moment no one will forget is when they announced the 3rd Herd as the marksmanship winners.

"They announced marksmanship and it was pretty haywire at that point. Everyone was celebrating," Sergeant Turner said. "There were a good 15-25 people we had to fight off to get to the stage because they were celebrating."

The event was also a milestone for Col. Thomas Byrge, 3rd Herd commander.

"I'm exceedingly proud of what our Warriors from the 3rd Herd accomplished," Colonel Byrge said. "We sent a team of six communicators to compete against Security Forces Airmen from across Air Force Space Command. They were able to win the team marksmanship and Senior Airman Nathan Joiner was the "Top Gun" for the M-9. They went into the competition blind, without much idea of how the events would unfold and showed what truly great Airmen they were."

While the security forces giants are dusting themselves off, the 3rd Herd is basking in a victory that, to them, wasn't very surprising after all. It's just the way things are, as team member 2nd Lt. Ira Mindoro said it.

"The 3rd Herd will take any challenge, anytime, anywhere. That's pretty much it," Lieutenant Mindoro said. "We learned their job in two months and we'd like to see if they could learn ours."