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Air Force, Army teams compete in adventure race

From left to right, Maj. Dan Pence, Senior Airman Olufemi Owolabi, Col. Mike Minahan, and Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Valdez compete as relay team 'XL1' in the "sandbag litter carry" portion of the 7-mile run leg in the 2006 Laughlin Adventure Race.  The third year for the race, it was begun by an instructor pilot at the base as a way to have fun but yet challenge one's self in physical competition.  Major Pence is the wing plans officer, Airman Owolabi works in the public affairs office,  Colonel Minahan is the wing commander and Sergeant Valdez is the wing command post operations NCOIC.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Austin M. May)

From left to right, Maj. Dan Pence, Senior Airman Olufemi Owolabi, Col. Mike Minahan, and Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Valdez compete as relay team 'XL1' in the "sandbag litter carry" portion of the 7-mile run leg in the 2006 Laughlin Adventure Race. The third year for the race, it was begun by an instructor pilot at the base as a way to have fun but yet challenge one's self in physical competition. Major Pence is the wing plans officer, Airman Owolabi works in the public affairs office, Colonel Minahan is the wing commander and Sergeant Valdez is the wing command post operations NCOIC. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Austin M. May)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AETCNS) -- While the morning sun swiftly scaled the West Texas sky, 360 Airmen, Soldiers, civilians and spouses psyched themselves up for a grueling, intense endeavor as the start of the second annual Laughlin Air Force Base Adventure Race drew near May 13.

The race would take 49 teams from two branches of service, including six Texas and New Mexico Air Force bases, on a trip not intended for the faint of heart. Only those who truly embodied the "fit-to-fight" mindset would come out on top after approximately 25 miles of biking, seven miles of running, and two miles of rafting.

"The objective was for everyone to have a great time and be safe while doing something they would not normally think they could do," said Bill Goins, the race director. "For those more fit individuals, it was a way for them to really push themselves and see how fast they could do it. But for most, it was a way to challenge themselves with something they may never have done otherwise."

The Adventure Race tradition began in June 2004 when an instructor pilot at Laughlin organized a race that pitted 96 participants, divided into 12 teams, against each other. The race was well received, and the following year it was opened to all of Laughlin.

Teams made up of eight members would swap positions throughout the course. The 2005 race grew to boast nearly 270 participants and 33 teams.

This year, race organizers expected even more participation, Mr. Goins said.

"We invited all the Texas and nearby states' bases and community organizations we could think of," he said.

Bases that accepted the invite to Laughlin included Randolph, Lackland, Dyess, Cannon and Goodfellow, which even brought an Army team from the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion stationed there.

At designated checkpoints throughout the race course, members could swap out with other team members, allowing everyone on the team to take needed breaks along the way. All four team members running the race had to stay within 50 feet of each other.

New this year was the option for participants to form an "Xtreme Team" consisting of only four people, with no substitutions allowed during the entire race.

"The main consideration in the design of the course was safety," Mr. Goins said. "After that, it was just what would be the most fun, challenging, grueling, dirty, and sweaty route that we could roll into a single race."

The first portion of the course consisted of an approximately 25-mile, on and off-road mountain-bike leg that took racers from the middle of Laughlin, through Del Rio and along Highway 90 West, and then to the Air Force's Southwinds Marina at Lake Amistad National Recreation Area.

From the marina, cyclists dismounted their bikes and began an approximately 7-mile run that would take them right up to the U.S.-Mexico border and international bridge on Lake Amistad. New this year was a point where four team members would carry a litter of sandbags up an access road at Amistad Dam and down again halfway through the run--roughly a distance of one quarter mile.

"We included a litter carry on the hill at the dam to add an expeditionary event/obstacle to the race," Mr. Goins said. "It really added to the difficulty, teamwork and military aspect of the race."

Once they finished the litter carry, race participants ran back to Governor's Landing recreation site on Lake Amistad where they boarded inflatable rafts and set out on the lake for a two-mile rowing trek that would take them within one mile of the finish line.

After reaching land again, rafters had to hoist and run with their raft and oars in-hand to the finish where drinks, barbeque, music and a crowd of cheering spectators waited to greet them.

Overall winners of the 2006 Laughlin Adventure Race were the 87th Flying Training Squadron Red Bulls, who took the title for the second year in a row with a total time of 3 hours, 11 minutes and 59 seconds. Team Randolph, from Randolph Air Force Base, won the Xtreme Team category with a final time of 3:14:25 -- a mere two minutes longer than the overall winning relay team.

The rafting was the most difficult part of the race, according to Capt. Sid Stegall, captain of the Red Bulls team.

"We were trying to fit four people in a two-man raft," he said, "and that leaves little room for skill."

Lt. Col. Om Prakash, 87th FTS commander, said being forced to have all four active members together was an excellent concept.

"It really makes you aware you're only as strong as your weakest link," he said, "and you truly have to work together to accomplish the mission."

Both Colonel Prakash and Captain Stegall said camaraderie and teamwork were the biggest themes of the race.

"The rewarding thing about the race is what you discover about your team," Colonel Prakash said.

"There was no room for slackers out there," Captain Stegall said. "Everyone had to pull their own weight."

Laughlin officials intend to host the Adventure Race again in 2007. For details, contact the Laughlin AFB Health and Wellness Center at (830) 298-6464.
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