WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – While “military-style” fitness might be a trend for social media influencers or something you see in online advertisements selling coffee or firearms, it was all too real for the Airmen and Marines who participated in the Defender Challenge at the Warfighter Training Center, May 18.
As part of National Police Week, which honors police officers past and present, the challenge put a twist on the commemorations by hosting ten teams in a timed race designed to test their personal fitness, mental toughness, and teamwork.
“With Police Week, we are honoring those who serve and protect,” said Senior Airman Felix de Jesus Ponce, an 88th Security Forces Squadron Defender who helped to organize the event. “With the Defender Challenge, we are showing other agencies and career fields what military police does on daily basis.”
Completed in pants, boots and a weighted vest, the race was split in two parts: the first leg consisted of two sprinted laps broken up by pushing a Humvee roughly 20 yards and disassembling and reassembling an M4 service rifle. Senior Airman George Plisinski, a combat arms instructor with 88 SFS whose team went first, said that working with the rifle was his favorite part because of how it applied pressure to a task he performs every day.
“You really have to focus because you have so much adrenaline,” said Plisinksi. “Your sense of thought is completely out the door. This is the intensity I look for in all my workouts.”
The second leg was a Crossfit-style station where each team of five split 10 pullups, 20 weighted squats, and a 1,500-meter row between them. Airman Laniya Brown, also assigned to 88 SFS, said that this part of the challenge helped her to identify her weaknesses.
“It was definitely a reality check,” said Brown. “I now know that I should probably practice my cardio and strengthening my legs more.”
Once both legs were completed, the race ended with one last sprint to the finish line.
Connecting through competition
Although 88 SFS put the race together, the Defender Challenge was about more than just being a great workout for military police officers. All Wright-Patt employees were welcome to compete, and several teams had members of other professions from units on base.
“The race was tough, but I enjoyed it a lot,” said Staff Sgt. Matt Lucio, an imagery analyst with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center who completed the challenge with four other Airmen from his squadron. “We are normally stuck in the office, so I think getting out as a team was a good opportunity to build some bonds and interact with the wing.”
“I think people that have office positions should get out and do this more often,” added Airman 1st Class Adam Irving, also an imagery analyst at NASIC and part of Lucio’s team. “It is easy to feel disconnected from the mission in an office. Getting with other squadrons that are more hands-on operationally, putting an actual person behind numbers and names and data, it feels good to connect.”
The challenge drew teams not only from other Air Force squadrons, but also from the Marine Corps. Capt. Stefan Endicott competed with four other Marines from Military Police Company “C,” 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, a Marine Corps Reserve unit stationed on Wright-Patt.
“We are out here today to support the Police Week initiative and be with our Air Force brothers and sisters,” said Endicott, whose team won the challenge with a time of 10 minutes and 37 seconds. “We are small fish in a big pond, and the Air Force has done an exceptional job throughout the years of supporting us in anything we do. I really, really liked being out here and putting faces to names we see in email traffic. It’s been nice.”
In the end, Ponce said the race wasn’t about winning or losing. Rather, the Defender Challenge was designed to bring the Wright-Patt community closer together by highlighting the hard work and sacrifices of military police every single day, from every branch of service in bases around the world.
“This is my first time being in charge of this,” Ponce said. “Going through the process of putting everything together opened my eyes and helped me to realize that military police is more than being a cop. Thinking about those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who did it with pride and honor, makes me want to do it right.”