Defender Challenge 2020 to Test Readiness, Lethality

By Vicki Stein, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs, 3 March 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --The U.S. Air Force Defender Challenge 2020 will pit Security Forces teams against each other in San Antonio, Texas, May 2021.

Defenders will prove their abilities in dismounted skills, endurance, agility, individual weapons, and military working dog (MWD) teams through a series of gut-testing challenges. This year, Security Forces expanded the competitor pool to 19 teams from across the U.S. Air Force major commands, U.S. Army Military Police, and with our coalition partners.  

Brig. Gen. Roy Collins, Air Force Director of Security Forces, says his intent is to demonstrate improved Defender lethality and readiness to defend our personnel and resources in any environment to ensure mission success. 

“Our Defenders will push themselves to the breaking point in these readiness trials to showcase the capabilities we bring to the fight, while displaying our competitive spirit and camaraderie that makes us unique,” said Brig. Gen. Collins.

This year, the challenges are tougher. The dismounted skills assessment, known as combat endurance, will measure strength, endurance, agility, teamwork, leadership, problem solving and knowledge of core skills. Competitors can expect to encounter multiple training objectives throughout the patrol to test their grit and measure the team’s cohesion and resiliency, such as medical aid, fire and maneuver, and land navigation.  

The combat agility competition objective will test functional fitness and the ability to execute tasks in a field-based evaluation under stress.

The weapons challenge evolved into a practical application where shooters will engage in scenario-based shooting events at the individual, pair and fire team levels in the near, middle and far distances.   This event will require active engagement, quicker reaction to situations and higher weapons expertise to prove proficiency on weapons.

A new event this year pits premiere MWD teams against a series of dismounted skills assessments in much the same manner as the combat endurance competition. The MWD and handler are judged as a team through a series of patrol and explosives detection-based field problems.

Chief Master Sgt. Tamara Hartz, Security Forces Career Field Manager, explained that not only will those events determine the most lethal and most ready team, “they will also inform us of things we need to do in our training capacity to help create the best Defender warfighter for the Air Force. Training is the foundation that makes us more lethal and more ready,” said Hartz.

“We updated our training over the past few years as part of the Reconstitute Defender Initiative. By looking at how our Defenders accomplish these events, we can fine-tune our training programs moving us from qualified to proficient in our core skills using lessons learned from this year’s competition to improve them,” explained Hartz. “Using Defender Challenge as both a showcase for talent and a way to assess training needs, we will continue to develop more lethal and capable security forces Airmen.”

Many of the teams who competed in 2018 will be back to defend their titles. Others will take the opportunity to take it from them. In 2018 PACAF won the Defender Challenge title by taking first in the weapons competition, placing second in the dismounted operations challenge, and scoring well in the combat agility.

PACAF won the weapons competition and displayed the highest marksmanship skills of all teams in that category. They won the Coleman Cup, named after Brig. Gen. Richard Coleman, former U.S. Air Force Security Forces Center director of security forces and commander from 1997 to 2000.

Air Mobility Command won the Sadler Cup. The award is presented to the top team in the dismounted operations challenge, named after Maj. Gen. Thomas Sadler, who served as Air Force Chief of Security Police from 1975-1977.

United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) Regiment previously held the trophy since winning it at the 2003 Defender Challenge.

In the combat endurance relay event, the German Air Force came out on top, and Lance Cpl. Adam Butler of the RAF team won the Outstanding Defender Award for demonstrating exceptional leadership throughout the competition.

“This year’s event will continue to evaluate our tactics, techniques and procedures and build upon our lessons learned, while working jointly with our world-wide partners, both in competition and crosstalk,” said Collins. “More lethal and more ready!”


Editor's Note: The Air Force Defender Challenge video is a must watch. Go to the "Gallery" then "Videos" and scroll down to the bottom to view it.

The Year of the Defender Improved Career Field Capabilities

Brig Gen Collins

10 February 2020

As we move forward into the New Year, I’d like to reflect upon the past, “Year of the Defender” and how this critical initiative equipped our Defenders to be more lethal and more ready. The increased investment in training, resourcing and equipment provided the career field with a spark that will continue to deliver capabilities to our Defenders for years to come.

The Year of the Defender Memorandum, signed by Air Force Senior Leaders, was designed to restore readiness, revitalize Security Forces organizations at all levels, and build a more dynamic force in accordance with the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Air Force direction. Numerous enterprise-wide efforts were established to equip our Defenders to better identify threats, better protect and defend our air bases to support Air Force, Joint and Coalition missions.

Our initial efforts focused at the source of proficiency and professionalism by overhauling the curriculum at the Security Forces Academy. A top to bottom review of the Academy was critical in providing the operational units a higher caliber Defender upon graduation. With the support of our strong SF Academy leadership team and our elite Security Forces Instructor cadre, we quickly updated our curriculum and implemented the changes in record time. This effort was critical in improving the foundation of our Defender’s development.

Much needed focus was placed on human capital investment to protect our most important asset - the Defender. Sustained efforts were placed to institute leader-led training. Leader led training put our Supervisor’s back into the loop of owning the responsibility of training the Airmen they lead. This effort has built a stronger connection and responsibility of ownership in the Supervisor with their Airmen. Additionally, we placed focus on Tier Training, which provides training gates that all Defenders must go through to ensure they are proficient for the skill level of their current rank. The Tier level training has provided operational units the ability to determine overall readiness of their Airmen based on whether they are enlisted or officer.

Human Capital investment extended to our Civilian Defenders, who have been critical to maintaining our current readiness level. Our Civilian Defenders are now graduating from a 10-week course at VA LETC that is compliant with DoD Law Enforcement Peace Officers Standards and Training requirements. This investment ensures our Civilian Defenders are ready to meet all mission requirements. This is especially important as we look to increase their role in Integrated Base Defense.

Additionally, we were successful in accelerating the delivery of modernized equipment to the field. The delivery of the new weapons systems, which includes the M18 handgun and the M4A1 rifle are underway. The need for better weapons was long overdue and critical in providing our Defenders with the fire power necessary to defend our installations.

We strategically began investment in new modular scalable vests and helmets designed for better protection and fit while performing daily duties. We are also in the final stages of the designing and fielding the first-ever Female Body Armor to ensure all Defenders have proper fitting gear to meet mission requirements.

In order to properly support the operational units, the Headquarters Air Force staff conducted a full evaluation of all career field policy and doctrine to ensure tactical and strategic alignment. Where warranted, there was a complete re-write. These efforts are ongoing but we have started to refine gaps in policy and improved guidance to the operational units executing the mission. Better guidance drives improved execution!

Continuing into 2020, our newly developed Security Forces Enterprise Plan will support the current efforts underway from “Year of the Defender.” Our Security Forces Enterprise Plan will focus on four strategic goals, “Institutionalizing an Elite Defender Culture, Proficiency Focused Training, Modernizing Enterprise Capabilities, and Standardizing Requirements.” More to follow as we work to finalize the focus areas under each of these strategic goals.

As the largest enlisted career field in the Air Force with approximately 38,000 total force Defenders serving on over 120 bases, it is the job of Security Forces to protect, defend and fight! We are responsible for integrated defense, nuclear security, and defending air bases around the globe. It is imperative we continue to train, develop, resource and equip the total force to include our Civilian Defenders for the environment in which we operate now and for the future.

These items discussed today is only a small portion of the success of the “Year of The Defender.” Our efforts will remain centered on how we continue to make the Defender Weapon System…More Lethal and More Ready every day!

Brig Gen Collins







Defenders, I am proud to announce and CONGRATULATE our newest Defender Colonels!










The hard work and commitment to excellence of these Defenders directly contributed to the Air Force’s decision for them to earn the title of “senior leader” in our Service. They now have the opportunity to perform the duties and take on the responsibilities associated with that small circle of leaders. Their achievements are indicative of their unwavering dedication to the Air Force’s core values and their ability to take care of the mission and their people with equal skill. I look forward to serving with them in leading our Elite Defenders to be More Lethal and More Ready!

VR – R.
Director of Security Forces


Editor’s Note: These Defenders were selected for promotion amongst 431 peers in a pool of over 3,600 eligible officers.

Advancing the Training Continuum

By CMSgt Tamala L. Hartz

Happy New Year! As we begin the new decade and the year 2020 we are continuing to advance our career field’s civilian, enlisted and officer training continuum. These efforts will ensure we are creating a Defender that will win in every fight!

In the last two years we have transformed Security Forces Training from recruitment to retirement. We overhauled every skill-awarding course at the SF Academy and our Military Working Dog schoolhouse. We integrated officer and enlisted training to provide necessary touch points during learning and exercise events. We formed training gates that ensure all Defenders return to the mothership for training at critical points, to match the development of their knowledge, skills and abilities with increased responsibilities. We overhauled our Civilian Defender course at the VA Law Enforcement Training Center to align training with the academy and provide the POST certification. To facilitate teaching and coaching at every base, we fashioned a Leader-Led Trainer course that focuses on providing our noncommissioned officers with the abilities and expertise to deliver training on every operational flight. All of these previous efforts have set the stage for the continuing evolution of our training in the next year.

In 2020, the focus will be on taking Defenders from ‘Qualified’ to ‘Proficient’. This initiative will require continued focus on training time and exercising skills that will build confidence and competence. Proficiency must become what we value and work towards.

Our first step is defining what a proficient Defender looks like. What is a ‘Proficient Defender’?   This is a Defender who accomplishes tasks with fluid instinctiveness and makes critical decisions with the confidence to know he/she will be successful. For example, one will identify a threat, pull their M9 Berretta from a drop holster, aim, pull the trigger and hit the intended target. This is accomplished fluidly, instinctively, and accurately. This proficiency will mature over years of training and experience resulting in smart, seasoned, and lethal Defenders who perform more like precision weapons than gravity bombs.

To begin the effort to become proficient lethal Defenders we must first modernize our home station training tools. It is essential to provide training guides and lesson plans that will arm Leader-Led Trainers and supervisors with relevant, up-to-date and accurate curricula to facilitate learning. We have reached out across the Air Force and created teams of experts to accomplish this cumbersome task. This subject-centered curriculum will provide the needed subject matter expertise to take a Defender from qualified to proficient.

With an understanding of what proficiency is and the tools to accomplish it, the last focus area is who will get us there. The answer, as it is so many times, will be our noncommissioned officers. Proficiency will be achieved through a cascade effect as our Staff Sergeants and Technical Sergeants on our operational flights learn to coach and educate, achieving higher levels of proficiency for themselves and their Defenders. Through the act of preparing for and educating others, a trainer becomes intimately familiar with the task, so much so that after the training they are also capable of executing the task to a higher proficiency level. Additionally when our flight leaders are evaluating the flight accomplishing multiple tasks during an exercise or actual event, their advanced or superior proficiency level enables them to identify the areas in which each Defender needs either additional training or more exposure to the task to increase proficiency levels.

As you can see there is a lot of work to be done, but we have the right people in the right place to ensure we create proficient, lethal Defenders who can win any fight! This is just one focus area we are getting after this year. I look forward to watching our career field mature and continuing to grow over the next 12-months. As always, thank you for what you do for our country, our Air Force, and our career field.

Squadron of the Future: Creating More Effective Defenders

By A1C Jennifer Zima, 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs, 11 Dec 2019

Airman 1st Class Cameron Rogers, 422nd Security Forces Squadron installation entry controller, clears an M4 carbine during a recall exercise at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, Nov. 21, 2019. Quarterly recall exercises are a form of readiness for defenders to always be prepared to respond at a moment’s notice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

RAF CROUGHTON, United Kingdom (AFNS) --

RAF Croughton is at the forefront of innovation, helping create the most effective defenders in the Air Force.

The 422nd Security Forces Squadron has been selected to undergo a six-month trial in a complete revitalization of the squadron.

“Security forces senior leaders recognized the need to overhaul security forces squadrons,” said Senior Master Sgt. Nicholas Whitney, 422nd SFS Defense Force Sustainment Flight superintendent. “We needed to capitalize on utilization of our resources and support operational function. Basically, aligning the forces for optimal performance.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein commissioned this idea under the Year of the Defender initiative to focus on training readiness, modernizing the force enterprise-wide and improving quality of life with eight-hour shifts. Squadron of the Future began at RAF Croughton Sept. 1, concentrating on providing defenders with more training opportunities, protected time off, and reorganizing the unit structure into a leaner, more efficient system.

“The biggest takeaway for me is the decentralized command relationship for the master sergeants, … the (noncommissioned officer) tier and down,” said Capt. Alexander Parsons, 422nd SFS operations officer. “It is really empowering those in junior-leadership levels to make decisions at the tactical level. Whereas in a traditional chain-of-command hierarchy, the decisions are elevated and made at a higher level. That is not the focus here. I want my Airmen and my NCOs to be empowered to make those decisions even at the lowest level possible. That frees up the senior leadership within the squadron to focus more on the strategic, operational and longer-term objectives.”

For 18 years, Air Force security forces squadrons followed the U.S. Army doctrine of separating the squadron into sections, S1 through S5: Commander Support Staff (S1), Intelligence Flight (S2), Operations and Training Flight (S3), Logistics and Resources Flight (S4), and Installation Security, Plans and Programs (S5). The new test program has removed these classifications and restructured the squadron to be more effective with streamlined communication transitioning to a three-system operations flight, a sustainment flight and command support staff.

With the implementation of Squadron of the Future, the biggest quality-of-life improvement is that off-duty time is secured.

“We started this back in September and we have not once brought anyone in from protected time off,” Whitney said. “When the flight is on their protected time off, no one in the unit is allowed to bring someone in unless the commander approves it. It is equivalent to crew rest.”

Defenders at RAF Croughton also increased their monthly training days from four to six. Likewise, trainers work alongside defenders to assist in training needs.

“Previously when we had to go to training, people generally drag their feet,” said Tech. Sgt. Corey Southard, 422nd SFS noncommissioned officer in charge of training. “Now you have a trainer embedded amongst your flight. People are more receptive to it. They have someone with them who’s their trainer. It’s twofold – the quicker they train you, the quicker you get out or go off to bigger and better things.”

The Squadron of the Future concept is being tested at 14 different security forces squadrons across the Air Force, at least one in each major command. Monthly conference calls with senior leaders bring Airmen together to talk about the progress and give feedback.

“Our senior leaders at the headquarters level are really taking care of the defenders out on the ground,” Whitney said. “In 18 years, this is a whole new change, but it’s a change for the right reasons. It is making us a more lethal career field by giving us more time to do training. That’s a lot of time not only to take care of our annual training plan requirements, but it also allows us to focus on the things that may be specific to RAF Croughton. It's making us more lethal defenders, because you never know when the next threat’s going to come.”

RAF Croughton is the only test base in U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa.

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