1st Annual Manzano Challenge 377th Security Forces Group

Staff Sgt. Antonio A. Pacheco, a Manzono Challenge team leader, completes at a station that requires members to disassemble and assemble their M-4 rifles blindfolded, showing their knowledge and weapons manipulation technique. More than sixty defenders, and one Air Force dentist, participated in the first-ever Manzno Challenge on Saturday at Kirkland Air Force Base.

On 22 October 2016, the 377th Security Forces Group, or 377 SFG, commanded by Col Dustin G. Sutton, hosted the 1st Annual Manzano Challenge at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The all-star competition featured Security Forces Airmen from across the 377 SFG. 64 Defenders divided into 16 teams of 4 competed on 17 stations ranging from weapons skills, land navigation, team tactics, and problem solving.

The idea for a Kirtland Security Forces competition originated this past summer when SMSgt Eric E. Blanco, Operations Superintendent of the 377th Weapons System Security Squadron, or 377 WSSS was looking for ways to enhance the Security Forces culture and heritage among our Kirtland Defenders. “The idea of competing against other Defenders has always been very exciting to me,” said SMSgt Blanco. “Competing is part of our Culture, it’s in our DNA.”

Support for having a Security Forces competition within Kirtland AFB quickly grew among the squadrons. One of the biggest supporters, Lt Col James K. Meier, Commander of the 377 WSSS, swiftly drafted members of the 377 SFG leadership team to compete in the Manzano Challenge. “I remember competing in Defender Challenge as a young Captain, testing myself and my limits together with my team,” said Lt Col Meier. “It’s hard work, but it pays off.”

“We designed the Manzano Challenge to enhance team readiness, teamwork, unit pride, esprit-de-corps, and a competitive spirit among our Defenders,” said Col Sutton. “This is a benefit to our Defenders because they are able to tests their limits against a mentally and physically demanding environment.”

The last station, Team Punisher, collided teams against each other on a grueling 15 minute challenge requiring teams to carry a 300 pound log to a mud pit filled with water. At the mud pit, teams had to complete 5 repetitions of fire team push-ups before returning the log to the starting position. Each repetition alternated the use of the log with body carries to the mud pit.

With 62 competitors, the Manzano Challenge required over 70 volunteers and coordination with 21 base agencies, making the course safe for all participants. At the finish line, teams were welcomed to free food and drinks after completing over 8 hours of intense challenges and traveling nearly 10 miles since the start of the competition.

“This was extremely challenging for the team” said SSgt Antonio A. Pacheco, Team 14 Team Leader. “The course exploited our weaknesses as well as our strengths. There is no better way to build teamwork than this – it’s a challenge.”

The winners of the 1st Annual Manzano Challenge were: Top Fire Team and Team Punisher Champions: SSgt Jorge Lopez, SrA Eddie Castro, and SrA Cody Taboada; Top Fire Team Leader: SrA James Ogg; and Top Fire Team Member: SrA Cody Taboada.

By Capt Roberto J. Cornier

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Jose J. Sanchez, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Defender Magazine, USAF Honor Guard, Bolling AFB, Washington DC, 416th SFS, Griffiss AFB, NY, 89th SFS, Andrews AFB, MD