September 25, 2016 Oromacto, New Brunswick -- Worthington Challenge
Members of the North Carolina and Tennessee National Guard competed in the Worthington Challenge on the Canadian Army Base Capetown in Oromocto, New Brunswick, Canada Sept. 25, 2016.
The Worthington Challenge is a five day armored crew exercise aimed at testing an armored crew's ability to perform various tasks as a team, while under simulated wartime stress. The challenge consists of four different challenges or "stands" that each crew were assigned over a five day period. After each Challenge, competing crews would meet for a dWebrief and to hear their scores and critiques for that event.
"The aim or purpose of both our competition, the Sullivan Cup and the Worthington Challenge is really the same," said Sargent First Class James Grider, a master gunner with the 1st 305thArmored Battalion, Camp Shelby, MS.
"Because the main purpose of those competitions are to determine the strengths and weaknesses of our armored core," said Grider.
The National Guard team's journey to the Worthington Challenge was not an easy one. It began with both North Carolina and Tennessee competing against each other in the Sullivan Cup competition on the tank ranges of Fort Benning, GA. After days of intense competition, North Carolina ended as the victors with Tennessee finishing not to far behind. But little did they know, this would be the beginning of a rememberable journey.
Because the Worthington Challenge is a collection of the best armored crews across the world, the crews that win their national competition receive and invite, and this was the case for the North Carolina team. Needing a second tank team to compete, the call went out to the Tennessee Guard 278th Armored Calvary Regiment and they accepted.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for our tank crew to work with another unit, the 30th brigade, a sister brigade that we don't get to train with often," said Colonel Warner Holt, the 278th Armored Calvary commander.
Because both teams are National Guard, they ran into a personnel issue. Some of the original members of each team could not compete due to other obligations, so other members of the guard stepped into their place.
"The biggest thing for me was ensuring they had a good training plan while training with North Carolina," said Master Sgt. Chris Keith, a master gunner with the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment.
"Leading up to the 30 day train up, I worked a lot with North Carolina and the 177th Armored Brigade to help develop that training plan, and coordinate all assets and resources," said Keith.
Both Tennessee and North Carolina began an intense 30 day training program headed by Sgt. 1st Class Grider, who was the crew commander of the first American team to compete in the Worthington Challenge in 2014.
"The first thing I had to do was to get them to stop thinking in our terms of our gunnery, our medical training, our vehicle ID, things like that. I had to get them to start thinking on a bigger broader level," said Grider.
During those 30 days, the crew member's training consisted of marksmanship, endurance training, land navigation, vehicle identification and tank operations. Everything they could expect was thrown at them to ensure they were as prepared as possible.
"I provided them, to the best of my ability, the replication of the stands that they were going to compete in, in Canada," said Grider.
After 30 hot grueling days of training in the Mississippi heat, the tank teams were ready for the competition.
"To tell you the truth, the training was outstanding," said Staff Sgt. Wesley Goff, a master gunner with the 278th ACR.
On Sept. 16, 2016, with tank load, the 278th ACR tank crew and mechanics loading into a C-17 Globemaster III, flown by members of the 164th Air Lift Wing in Memphis, TN., and headed to Canada for an experience of a lifetime.
After adding new members to each crew, with only 30 days of training together, the American team finished 3rd overall in the 120mm competition.
"I think it's only natural when you look at it and see that their a reserve component, to assume that they are going to be at a disadvantage to any kind of active duty team," said Grider
Grider expressed that the way that the National Guard team trained and competed, they definitely deserved to be on the same stage as other top national and international active duty tank crew's.
"It's a really good example of where we are headed in the future and just how successful we can be working together as an active component and a reserve component," said Col. Holt.
-Senior Airman Leon Bussey