FORT BLISS, Texas – Air Force Defenders gathered in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains Oct. 23-27 to represent their major commands from around the globe in the 2023 Defender Challenge at the Doña Ana Range Complex.
Eleven teams of five — four competitors and one alternate — were timed and tested through three areas of competition: combat tactics, weapons proficiency and physical endurance.
Leadership from each respective command attended events to observe and encourage their Defenders to perform at their very best.
“The energy at Defender Challenge is infectious and seeing the thrill of victory as our Defenders perform at their absolute best is inspiring,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Sherman, director of Air Force Security Forces and host of the event. “Our success as a career field depends on getting the most from every person on the team. Ultimately, competition makes us better, brings us together and fosters warfighting trust amongst all members of the team.”
Winners of the 2023 Defender Challenge are:
- Sadler Cup best-of-the-best team: Air Force District of Washington
- Weapons: 1st place Air Force Global Strike Command, 2nd place Air National Guard and 3rd place Air Force District of Washington
- Tactics: 1st place Air Mobility Command, 2nd place Air Force District of Washington and 3rd place Air Education and Training Command
- Fitness: 1st place U.S. Air Forces in Europe, 2nd place Air Force Global Strike Command and 3rd place Air Force District of Washington
- Top ruck team: U.S. Air Forces in Europe
- Top shot: Master Sgt. Christopher Reed, Air National Guard
“What we saw during this competition was a true representation of Defender Family and our best qualities were exhibited through drive, passion, skill, and teamwork,” Sherman said. “We are incredibly proud of what happened on the fields of competition and congratulate all of the competitors and winners of Defender Challenge!”
Throughout the tactics, weapons proficiency and physical endurance, Airmen displayed not only team camaraderie but also their personal strength, said Lt. Col. Christopher Jackson, Air Force Security Forces Center chief of training and event director for both Defender Challenge and Defender Flag.
“The teams showed us a lot of grit and a lot of teamwork throughout the event,” Jackson said.
“You can tell these Defenders spent countless hours competing within their MAJCOM just to get an invite. That experience showed as individual strengths and weaknesses cumulated to great team efforts across the board,” he said.
Each of the major event areas included elements that forced Defenders to critically think and present on-the-spot solutions. Those elements were a closely guarded secret, known only by event cadre for the entirety of the challenge.
Although Defender Challenge may only include a few selected Defenders, the spirit of the event raises the bar of enthusiasm and pride across the enterprise of Defenders.
“Competition breeds excellence and it puts pressure on each one of us to want to do better and bring those bragging rights to our MAJCOMs,” said Chief Master Sgt. Donnie Gallagher, career field manager for Air Force Security Forces. “We’ve seen the best and the brightest here at Defender Challenge … Defenders that are enthusiastic and want to get after the job. I hope they take this experience and inject the pride they feel into their peers to carry it on into everything we do.”
The 2023 Defender Challenge, planned, programmed and conducted by the AFSFC, was a welcome competition after being absent since 2018 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.