From Perfect Strangers to Perfect Partners

Oklahoma Soldiers Earn Gold at International Military Competition

When four Soldiers from Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) first met last fall, it was just days before they were to begin competing as a team in the Altcar Challenge, an international competition held at the Altcar Training Camp in Merseyside, England. To the group’s surprise, they gelled together quite well—well enough to bring home the gold. 

Oklahoma Army National Guard Soldiers (left to right) SPC Brandon Widman, SPC Durham Chilcoat, CPL Kyle Foor and SSG Jonathan Cody stand together while being briefed just after arrival to the Altcar Challenge 2018, an international military skills competition held at the Altcar Training Camp in Merseyside, England, and hosted by the United Kingdom Reserve Forces Association and the British Army Headquarters North West.

Hosted by the United Kingdom Reserve Forces Association (UKRFA), an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for education, personal development and international experiences to promote the efficiency of the reserve forces, the Altcar Challenge is a three-day, international competition designed to bring together reserve component soldiers from around the world and test them on a variety of advanced military skills. 

Oklahoma’s participating team was made up of SSG Jonathan Cody, CPL Kyle Foor, SPC Durham Chilcoat and SPC Brandon Widman. The Soldiers were chosen to compete based on their achievements as some the brigade’s top-performing Soldiers. 

With 18 teams and participants hailing from France, Denmark, The Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States, the competition tested soldiers’ skills in multiple events, including dismounted close-quarter combat, land navigation, obstacle courses and casualty evacuation. 

The Oklahoma Guard team members ensure no man is left behind as they run an obstacle course as part of a team event during the Altcar Challenge 2018.

“The competition was fantastic,” said SGM Calvin Tiffie of the 45th IBCT. “It was really interesting to meet reservist and guard soldiers from allied nations in Europe. The facilities were great and the quality of the training was great. It was just a real top-notch run event.” 

SGM Tiffie served as a coordinator for the 45th during the competition.

“I was the operations sergeant major,” he explained. “I coordinated getting our people over there, getting the money and teams together. I traveled with the brigade commander, COL Chris Chomosh, as command observers just to see what it was all about.” 

COL Chomosh noted that in addition to being a forum for building relationships with allied soldiers, the competition was also an important opportunity to build interoperability. 

The 4-man, Oklahoma Guard Altcar Challenge team performs a recovery exercise where they were tested on patrolling, combat lifesaving, and egressing to a medical-evacuation location.

“Everyone lived in the same barracks. Soldiers were telling jokes and trading patches. At the end of the day, it was a great chance to work with our allies to build interoperability, friendship and comradery before we are in a deployed environment,” he remarked.

The Oklahoma team members met for the first time just before the competition, leaving them little time to prepare as a unified group. Then SGT, now SSG Cody, acted as team leader during the competition. He said he felt his team members’ individual preparations helped speed their cohesion when working as a team. 

“We have to keep ourselves prepared at all times,” said SSG Cody. “For the competition, we were just sent a packing list and a description of the stations and training events that would be there. We didn’t even know each other until the day we were going to get on the airplane and go, so we didn’t have much time to prepare as a team. But individually, we did what we could. You try to prepare yourself as best as you can.” 

Participants were given only one day to familiarize themselves with the lanes before beginning the challenge. Despite going into the competition with little knowledge of what to expect, and not knowing their teammates, the Oklahoma Guard team excelled in the challenging and competitive environment. 

Two Altcar Challenge team members from Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, shoot the SA80 NATO firearm on the weapons qualification range as part of a shooting event during the Altcar Challenge 2018.

“We sent a four-man team [made up of] Soldiers from two different battalions,” explained SGM Tiffie. “They got the letter of instruction, rehearsed and they just executed flawlessly.” 

The competition gave participants opportunities to work with and learn from their allied partners. During the competition, the Oklahoma team was paired with other foreign teams in order to complete certain challenges. 

“Four Soldiers from Oklahoma, who had never worked with any foreign allies, [were thrown] into a squad with two Dutch national guard teams,” said SGM Tiffie. “It was a challenge. There was a language barrier and a tactics, techniques and procedures barrier. That was the most interesting thing – to see how they all came together and figured it out pretty efficiently.” 

SSG Cody noted an event conducted with Lithuanian soldiers that he felt exemplified his team’s ability to work well with their foreign counterparts. 

“We were going door to door with two Lithuanian teams attached to us,” SSG Cody explained. “They [manned] the station and you had to come up with a plan very quickly amongst the team leaders to see who was going to take which route. It was incredible how much we could accomplish together in a really short amount of time.”

The various events left the Oklahoma Soldiers with plenty of useful techniques and lessons-learned to apply to future missions. 

“It was great seeing the different ways our allies work,” said Oklahoma team member CPL Foor. “I will definitely be bringing these techniques home. [For instance], using mils over degrees for land navigation to be more accurate and having an emphasis on mission planning.” 

The British Royal Navy ran teams through sea training and sea survival courses. As the Oklahoma Soldiers had never done that type of training before, it was a new and exciting learning experience. 

The Oklahoma Guard Soldiers of the Altcar-Challenge team conduct minesweeping techniques en route to an urban operations course as part of the 2018 competition held at the Altcar Training Camp in Merseyside, England.

“We enjoyed their lessons, for sure,” SSG Cody said. “They had a short course on underwater mine sweeping. However, due to weather conditions, they didn’t actually have us underwater. They had a great scenario where you were blindfolded and had to feel your way around and try to describe what a possible bomb or IED [improvised explosive device] felt like. Then you had to report back based on how you dimensioned it with your hand or arm. That was really neat.” 

SSG Cody went on to comment on how the competition demonstrated the importance of adaptability in being successful in any mission. 

“Being adaptable and flexible was the best thing to take away from the competition,” SSG Cody said. “We can train all day here at home. But when you are amongst foreign and international teams like that, you have to stay adaptive. They have a different way of doing things just like we do.” 

SGT Jonathan Cody of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma Army National Guard, accepts on behalf of his team the winning medal for the Altcar Challenge 2018 from Maj. Gen. William O'Leary, deputy commander of the British Field Army and joint head of the British Army Reserve, on Sept. 9, 2018.

The team’s adaptability and dedication paid off as they were one of four teams to earn gold in the competition. 

“We all worked very well together,” explained CPL Foor. “Especially seeing as though it was the first time any of us had ever met. We were all hoping for [gold], but we weren’t really expecting it since we had not done [the competition] before. We didn’t think we were going to win at all so we were very surprised when we did. It feels awesome.” 

“We were very honored, surprised and pleased with ourselves that we could go over there and do this competition with little to no warning of what their stations and training requirements would be,” said SSG Cody. “It was an amazing experience and I recommend any American [reserve component Soldier] to go through the Altcar competition.”

By Staff Writer Tatyana White-Jenkins 

Photos Courtesy Oklahoma Army National Guard

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