The competition was the culmination of an Air Force program that featured 15 regional competitions across the Air Force. The top male and female qualifiers from each region, along with the 10 men and women with the fastest times, advanced to compete over a grueling 32-obstacle course at Retama Park’s Alpha Warrior Proving Ground in Selma, Texas.
The event also was a celebration of Air Force tradition on Veterans Day. Maj. Gen. Brad Spacy, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center commander, delivered opening remarks; the Air Force Band of the West performed; the Joint Base San Antonio Color Guard presented the colors; and Col. Donna Turner, Air Force Services Activity commander, swore in 30 new Air Force recruits.
“(Air Force Alpha Warrior) is especially exciting for me because I have seen this grow and evolve throughout the Air Force,” Spacy said. “This is the next level of athletic competition. It makes you run, it makes you climb, it makes you think, it makes you worry, and it tests your core.
“This is what we are all about. It tests your commitment.”
And the 43 athletes who competed showed their commitment and resilience.
Some of the obstacles were omitted because of slick conditions caused by overnight rain, but that didn’t stop Air Force Alpha Warriors from proving themselves. If competitors fell while trying to complete an obstacle, they had to complete 15 burpee exercises before continuing.
2nd Lt. Nicole Mitchell, a former track and field athlete at the University of La Verne, Calif., won the women’s division in 12:11.3.
Mitchell, officer in charge of directory services for the 83rd Network Operations Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., had a simple approach to conquering the course.
“Just try not to fall, and try not to do burpees,” Mitchell said. “It was more of a mental game because I was second-guessing myself. So I tried not to think about falling and psyching myself out.”
Capt. Jeff Schaefer, a civil engineering instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., conquered the course in a blistering 6 minutes, 58.3 seconds.
“I just ran, and I didn’t stop running,” Schaefer said with a smile and a laugh. “It’s just fun.”
Schaefer’s brother-in-law, Capt. Cale Simmons, finished second with 7:25.2. Simmons raced through the course and paid the price with scraped and bruised legs. But the former participant in the Air Force World Class Athlete Program smiled and shrugged it off.
“I sacrificed my body for this course,” said Simmons, a contracts manager for the Air Force Space and Missile Center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
Simmons, who competed in the pole vault in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, had a unique perspective on how Alpha Warrior can translate into his training regimen.
“What helps is that it makes you agile, and it challenges your body,” said Simmons, who aspires to compete in the 2020 Games in Tokyo. “That’s something I need to work on in track and field is knowing my body, knowing my limits and knowing how to push myself past different things.
“It all goes back to resiliency. If I know how to bounce back after a tough day, or if I fall off an obstacle, it’s the same thing. You keep going,” Simmons said.
Rounding out the Final Battle family affair was Capt. Rachel Schaefer, Jeff’s wife and Cale’s sister, who placed third in the women’s division in 12:27.4.
The Schaefers weren’t the only couple competing together. Capt. Noah Palicia and Capt. Lesly Palicia, former track and field teammates of Simmons at the Air Force Academy, were the top qualifiers in the Pacific Air Forces main regional at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Noah, a C-130J instructor pilot with the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota, finished seventh in 9:04.4. Lesly, bilateral cyberengagement chief with 5th Air Force at Yokota AB, finished 14th in 22:09.4.
“To get a group of people this athletic together at one time is the coolest thing you could ever imagine, especially with people you’re brothers and sisters in arms with,” said Noah, a former decathlete and obstacle-course race aficionado.
Perhaps the most impressive display of resiliency came from Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Olson of the 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron at Aviano AB, Italy.
Olson, 39, was the oldest competitor in the field. She placed second in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa qualifier at Ramstein AB, Germany, and her time placed her in the top 10 females within the Air Force.
Olson, who finished 15th with a time of 22:09.4, said she was “smoked” afterward.
“It definitely tests those physical, mental, social and spiritual pillars,” said Olson, who said she heard of Alpha Warrior after she came off leave and someone suggested she tried it.
Now that she conquered the course, Olson said she can’t wait to return to Aviano AB and incorporate Alpha Warrior’s functional fitness into her training regimen of Crossfit and running.
“When you think you have it all, and then you go out and do something like this, it’s definitely not everything you have tried,” Olson said. “I’d recommend this, especially to the younger Airmen.”
Other placers were Airman 1st Class Trevor Puerile, an installation entry controller with the 633rd Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va, and Special Agent April Fohey of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Puerile finished third in the men’s division in 8:22.3, and Fohey was second in 12:26.0.
For more information on Alpha Warrior, http://www.myairforcelife.com/Fitness/alpha-warrior.aspx.