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LCG comes together to face 'Challenge'

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 1st Lt. Michael Hoadley, a flight vehicle engineer with the 4th Space Launch Squadron, calls 911 to treat injured personnel during a Guardian Challenge launch rehearsal on March 28. The GC trainers provide a series of anomalous conditions. This provides the GC team with familiarity of the launch count down manual and trains them on some of the day-of-launch systems that can become problems or barriers in achieving a successful mission launch. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 1st Lt. Michael Hoadley, a flight vehicle engineer with the 4th Space Launch Squadron, calls 911 to treat injured personnel during a Guardian Challenge launch rehearsal on March 28. The GC trainers provide a series of anomalous conditions. This provides the GC team with familiarity of the launch count down manual and trains them on some of the day-of-launch systems that can become problems or barriers in achieving a successful mission launch. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 1st Lt. Michael Hoadley, a flight vehicle engineer with the 4th Space Launch Squadron, and Capt. A.J. Ashby, 4th SLS flight commander, go through terminal count down and procedures during a Guardian Challenge launch rehearsal on March 28. The GC trainers provide a series of anomalous conditions. This provides the GC team with familiarity of the launch count down manual and trains them on some of the day-of-launch systems that can become problems or barriers in achieving a successful mission launch. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 1st Lt. Michael Hoadley, a flight vehicle engineer with the 4th Space Launch Squadron, and Capt. A.J. Ashby, 4th SLS flight commander, go through terminal count down and procedures during a Guardian Challenge launch rehearsal on March 28. The GC trainers provide a series of anomalous conditions. This provides the GC team with familiarity of the launch count down manual and trains them on some of the day-of-launch systems that can become problems or barriers in achieving a successful mission launch. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Thomas)

Guardian Challenge 2008

Guardian Challenge 2008

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- (Editor's Note: This is the third in a four-part series on Guardian Challenge.) 

In competitions, no matter the team dynamic, each member must have the drive to win. In track and field competitions, for example, each team member works alone, yet their performance dictates the success or failure of the whole team. 

As Guardian Challenge continues, the 30th Launch Group plays the role of Vandenberg's track and field team, with four different competitions in which they must compete ... and which they want to win. 

This year's 30th LCG Guardian Challenge team includes flight commander Capt. A.J. Ashby, vehicle subsystem engineer 1st Lt. Michael Hoadley, engineering support technician Staff Sgt. Joshua Craig on booster, Staff Sgt. Anthoney Kilgore on facilities, and Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Scalf on spacecraft. While the two officers will work together as the day-of-launch team, the three NCOs will work separately. 

This style of competition allows these individuals to shine, yet it also presents challenges during training. 

"It's definitely been a big challenge trying to get everybody's schedule together," said Capt. Paul Hunke, the Guardian Challenge project officer for the 30th LCG. "We overcome that with lots of communication, just trying to make sure everybody knows what they're doing." 

Thankfully, they've also had some time to train. The group was given information on this year's competition in November 2007, but they were originally told they had to compete in early March. 

"It was going to be really, really difficult," Captain Hunke said. "To get our team selected, to get all of our training scenarios and even the evaluation scenarios was going to be almost impossible." 

Eventually, the 14th Air Force and Air Force Space Command worked to push their competition date to April, giving them the time needed to prepare. 

"It was a mad dash and mad scramble to get all this done," the captain said. "But these guys have done a really great job, saying, 'You know what? We're going to do this, we're going to win, we're going to kick butt, and it's going to be great.'" 

The team members said that in order to win, they have to continually work on their skills. 

"The pressure's on," Captain Ashby said. "You want to improve with every ride and, come game day, make sure that it goes flawless." 

Reaching that level means tough training. For example, Captain Ashby and Lieutenant Hoadley train weekly on console, running through a Delta IV launch sequence while bombarded with anomalies. The monkey wrenches in their operation could include high winds, lightning or a fire in the office. But all of this madness happens for a reason. 

"We're just trying to throw the kitchen sink at them," Captain Hunke said. "We're trying to think of anything possible that may come up during Guardian Challenge." 

The great thing about the training and the competition, said team members, is that it keeps the launch group well rehearsed in case of actual contingencies. 

"These are outstanding training opportunities," Captain Ashby said. "This is actually some of the best training I've had since I've been here." 

All of the training will culminate in the actual competition, which takes place April 9-11 here. The 45th Launch Group out of Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., the competing team, will be scored at the same time; however, the 45th LCG will launch an Atlas V, while the 30th LCG will launch a Delta IV. 

Launching two different Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles will not affect the scoring, Captain Ashby said. The core work of the flight commander, for example, is the same for both launches. 

"It's like a journalist interviewing the launch group for Guardian Challenge, and another interviewing the operations group," the captain said. "It's two totally different things, but the way you go about it is similar." 

Equity in scoring is important, because the 30th LCG is poised to bring home the Schriever Trophy. The 45th LCG are the defending champions in the spacelift category of Guardian Challenge. 

"Knowing that the 45th won in 2006, I definitely would like to bring that trophy back here to Vandenberg," Captain Ashby said. "Everyone wants to do well. We want to win." 

No matter how they do, they've proven their skills as a team to their leadership. 

"I've been really impressed to see what they've been doing, how well they've been responding to all the anomalies," Captain Hunke said. "Regardless of how we do, I'm really proud of them, I think they've done a great job."