TACPs prove themselves at 2020 Lightning Challenge

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class William Rio Rosado
  • 432nd Wing Public Affairs

The year 2020 has come with a number of challenges, and this year’s Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) Lightning Challenge was one to remember.

The TACP Lightning Challenge pits teams of two TACP specialists from squadrons across the Air Force in a series of physical, technical and military challenges that began on Fort Hood and concluded at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, Texas, Oct. 26-30, 2020. TACP specialists are highly trained Airmen who embed with Army units on the frontline and are responsible for calling in air strikes.

“The Lightning Challenge was a good way for these guys to get together and see how other units are operating,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Marcantonio, 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron flight chief. “We had guys coming in from all around the Air Force to compete in a series of challenges and tests comprised of job knowledge, physical tests, and other core level tasks we’re expected to do as TACPs.”

After a long hiatus, the annual challenge has come back for the second year in a row and has worked well in testing the knowledge and grit of TACPs. Exercises where competitors are evaluated on core level tasks and training have helped the career field grow.

“Getting out here allows us to see where the entirety of the TACP career field is as far as job skills and knowledge. We are able to find the common denominator and see where we may need to improve from there.” said Marcantonio.

Competitors were kept in the dark about the schedule and did not know what to expect across the five-day competition.

A live Call for Fire event tested the TACPs’ abilities to integrate with Army units and do their primary mission. Competitors came up to an elevated view of the battlefield where they coordinated with a U.S. Army M109 Paladin to eliminate enemy targets via radio. Cadre stood close by and evaluated each team for knowledge and efficiency while calls for fire were made.

The next morning consisted of multiple shooting events tested the competitors’ accuracy, reflexes, and ability to move.. This was followed by an afternoon of Special Warfare Android Kit training and concluded with a land navigation after the sun went down.

“The challenge has tested a lot of my grit,” said Staff Sgt. George Alverio, Lightning Challenge competitor. “And it helped the community overall to build a brotherhood because there’s a bunch of TACPs here toughing it out together and getting the job done.”

Lightning Challenge brought a relatively small career field together for intense training while proving its value to the Joint Force.

“I love the opportunity to be a cadre at this event,” said Marcantonio. “Anytime I get to go out and support something like this that’ll help build up future TACPs with healthy competition within the career field is great.”

Whether it be the documented training events during the challenge or the physical and mental tests throughout, TACPs were prepared and equipped to win Lightning Challenge 2020.

“This job is not always easy,” said Alverio. “And a challenge like this with TACPs from all over the world is the best place to test our grit and knowledge.”

Staff Sgt. Aaron Conway and Staff Sgt. Brandon Cooke, 14th Air Support Operations Squadron TACPs, were named the best of the best by the end of the challenge. 

Their team effort and cooperation led to them hoisting up the trophy as winners of the 2020 TACP Lightning Challenge.

“I think Lightning Challenge is going to blow up to something really big and beneficial for the TACP career field,” said Marcantonio. “It's not only a challenge where we can get together for some healthy competition, but we’re also able to get leadership and people from other units to see where the rest of the career field is at and help each other along the way.”

Through the blood, the sweat, and the tears, the 2020 TACP Lightning Challenge is an event the TACP career field will not forget, and they look forward to competing for next year’s trophy.