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Top Hawk competition boosts morale, readiness

The winning crew of the 2015 Top Hawk competition, led by Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, is recognized by General Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, and Col. Marc Del Rosario, 30th Operations Group commander, April 17, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The competition, initially created in lieu of the Air Force Space Command’s Guardian Challenge, is designed to present numerous launch scenarios for crew members and puts 30th Operations Group launch teams against each other to determine the best of the best. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman Robert J. Volio/Released)

The winning crew of the 2015 Top Hawk competition, led by Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, is recognized by General Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, and Col. Marc Del Rosario, 30th Operations Group commander, April 17, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The competition, initially created in lieu of the Air Force Space Command’s Guardian Challenge, is designed to present numerous launch scenarios for crew members and puts 30th OG launch teams against each other to determine the best of the best. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Robert J. Volio/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- VAFB personnel recently participated in the Top Hawk competition, here, April 9 through 17.

The competition, initially created in lieu of the Air Force Space Command's Guardian Challenge, is designed to present numerous launch scenarios for crew members and puts 30th Operations Group launch teams against each other to determine the best of the best.

"The inspiration came from the Guardian Challenge, which pitted the best of each wing across every career field against each other," said Maj. Jeffrey Koch, 30th OG standardization and evaluation chief. "The competition is part job performance and part job knowledge. Team members take an 80-question, hour-long, timed test and then compete in a crew evaluation. The crew evaluation is designed to be much faster and more difficult than real-world operations."

With such a laborious task at hand, a lot of coordination and preparation is required from competing teams.

"Since Top Hawk is intended to be challenging, crew members dive deep into the regulations to gain an even stronger understanding of their operating documents than they previously had," said Capt. Theodore Givler, 30th OG standardization and evaluation deputy chief. "Simulator time can be made available to them, and teams often coordinate study sessions." The preparation phase of this event is where the most learning occurs for crew members."

Another reason for the competition is to identify areas for improvement in both individual and crew performance, which in turn ensures mission success in the long run.

"The opportunity to experience 'extreme' ops is invaluable," said Koch. "Operators never get the chance to know how efficiently they can execute the mission until they are forced to, and this gives them the chance to try. It is rare for participants to go through the evaluation without an error, but the lessons learned stick with them. They grow, and they get better."

While crowning an eventual winner of Top Hawk is an inevitable conclusion, the primary objective of the competition is to ensure proficient job performance and mission readiness at all times.

"Preparing for Top Hawk can be time consuming, but as operators we all want to excel as much as possible and this competition is a means to do that," said Givler. "Having been both evaluated and an evaluator for this event, I can personally say it's made me better at my job."

The results of the 2015 Top Hawk competition are as follows:

Top Launch Weather Officer: Capt. Jennifer Kelley

Top Aerospace Clearance Officer: SrA Anna Rensink

Top Range Control Officer Crew: Capt. Dustin Spafford, 2nd Lt. Christopher Huynh

Top Range Operations Commander: 1st Lt. Benjamin Skee

Best Written Evaluation Score: 1st Lt. Philip Gerfaud

Top Crew: CREW 4 - Team Balts: 2nd Lt. Ryan Yeager, Capt. Robert Dufrane, 2nd Lt. Kaylan Lee, SrA Justin Horton, Capt. Jennifer Kelley