An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Helos kick off Global Strike Challenge at Camp Guernsey

  • Published
  • By R.J. Oriez & Senior Airman Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
A circle, just a few feet in diameter, with an X inside is drawn on a rocky hillside a few miles east of Guernsey, Wyo. One at a time, helicopters and crews from Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming come looking for it.

Even when they know they are close, it is not easy to find. The circle and X are white, and so are the rocks around it.

When the crews find the mark, they must lower a four-foot long, metallic "penetrator" down on a cable, like a giant weight on a fishing line, from 40 feet above and have the penetrator land in the circle.

After accomplishing that, an Airman dashes out from the underbrush, unfolds a seat, straps himself to the penetrator and is hoisted up into the UH-1N Huey helicopter. The aircraft then lands a short distance away, lets the Airman out and then does it again.

When they land the second time, the competition ends.

The cycle repeated itself three times on Aug. 9 as teams competed during the 2015 Global Strike Challenge helicopter competition.

Crews representing the three helicopter squadrons of the 582nd Helicopter Group that support the three missile wings of the 20th Air Force and Air Force Global Strike Command,  competed with a sense of good-natured rivalry, but the skills they use during the competition are the same ones they may have to call on to save a life.

"It's practice for a game we hope never happens," said Capt. Mike Carter, 582nd Helicopter Group chief of flight safety for F.E. Warren Air Force Base. "That's the way we see it down in the trenches when we're taking part in it."

Carter competed for F.E. Warren Air Force Base's 37th HS GSC team in 2014.

The 20th Air Force's 582nd Helicopter Group only came into existence earlier this year. In previous years its squadrons, the 37th, 40th and 54th Helicopter Squadrons, were part of the 90th, 341st and 91st Missile Wings, respectively. The helicopter squadrons are competing alongside their former wings in the 2015 GSC.

Each helicopter squadron selected a team of two pilots and two flight engineers, accompanied by two tactical response force members from their home base. The teams display how their helicopter operations skills play a vital role in the nuclear security mission, said Carter.

The SAR portion of the competition represents a relatively small portion of the 582nd's mission, said Col. David Smith, 582nd HG commander.

"Our primary mission is missile field security as well as other missile wing support, but we can get called on by our local community in a search and rescue role," Smith said.

The teams also matched skills in emergency security response and night tactical competitions, which tie in with the group's primary missions of security and support.

The day after the aircrews showed their stuff in the SAR event, they faced the challenge of a simulated recapture of an abandoned launch facility south of Wheatland, Wyo.

The aircraft came in high, one at a time, taking a good look at the situation. They found that the rolling hills of the Wyoming High Plains provided cover for their next step.

A ridge, just a few hundred yards northwest of the complex, rises 50-60 feet above the launch facility and the simulated bad guys below.

The aircraft come in low, flying up a small valley and deposited a defender near the top of the ridge, safely shielded from any hostile fire that might be sent their way. The security forces Airmen quickly made their way up the hill to where they could radio in that they were able to take the shots.

Once the Airmen were in a position that would let them take out the threat, the helos swooped in to land in front of the launch facility and the other security forces Airman on the team sprang from the side door and sprinted to the gate. The clock stopped on the timed event as soon as he touched the gate.

The crews got to sleep-in the next day, Aug. 11, but only because they were back at it that night, flying with night-vision technology.

F.E. Warren's Capt. Preston Moon, 37th HS pilot and team member, said his team started preparing for the competition once they were given the grading criteria, which includes timeliness and accuracy in the various tasks they will perform.

Although time is a factor in scoring, certain tasks in the helicopter portion of GSC require a minimum time to perform to ensure crews do not rush and skip steps that could put them at risk.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Ruebelman, 37th HS flight engineer, said they kept their training standards more stringent than they expected during the competition to make it easier when they were judged.

"We do a lot of these mission sets very often," he said. "We have currency requirements dictating we must perform these tasks a certain amount of times per year or per month, depending on what it may be. We're pretty good at all the stuff, so it was good to put it towards competition."

The helicopter portion is just one of the many competitions, spread out over the next several weeks, which make up Global Strike Challenge. Missile wings vie in security, missile maintenance, operations and, new this year, a chef competition, in addition to the helo action up at Guernsey.

Global Strike's bomber wings are competing in similar events in the same time frame. It all comes together in October, when scores are posted at Barksdale AFB, La. At that time, the top missile and bomber wings will be named, as well as numerous other awards presented.

Moon acknowledged that it would be nice to know how they fared compared to the other squadrons without having to wait until October.

"We'll know," Ruebelman said at the end of the first day of competition. "We've already got a pretty good idea about today."