SIMSBURY, Conn. - Connecticut National Guard members put their tactical skills and physical prowess to the test this year during the 15th Annual Connecticut SWAT Challenge.

Soldiers of the 1-102nd Infantry Regiment and Airmen assigned to the 103rd Security Forces Squadron competed against some of the most highly-skilled tactical operators in the nation.

The SWAT Challenge was not a new experience for 103rd Airmen; they have participated in the competition every year, since 2007. However, the 1-102nd Infantrymen were less experienced, with a third of their 12-member team being first-time competitors. The exercise gave the first-year competitor, Spc. Connor Dowd of the 1-102nd a more significant experience than what he expected.

"It exceeded expectations," said Dowd. "We took our training that we've done over the years and used it in this competition. This was beneficial."

The four-day challenge included events that tested skills in rifle and pistol marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, search and rescue operations and physical endurance. Teamwork was vital to completing each arduous task; competitors pushed themselves to the edge, mentally and physically, while strengthening bonds with their teammates.

"It was long and tough, but it was a good experience,"
said Dowd. "It's a good team-building and camaraderie thing. I know that I can rely on any one of these guys."

In addition to providing an opportunity for high-level competition, the SWAT challenge also serves as a training event for Guard members. Challenge participants can share best-practice techniques from tactical operators outside of their organization.

"It shows the guys that there's another level of competitiveness," said team captain Sgt. 1st Class Ronaldo Barrera of the 1-102nd. "One of the biggest benefits is that we learn different techniques from other departments, and we learn from each other."

Out of 31 teams, the 1-102nd team finished the competition in 20th place overall, while the 103rd team finished 27th. Barrera hopes that more members of the Connecticut National Guard will take advantage of the SWAT Challenge experience in years to come.

"I encourage members of the National Guard to compete because it's such a great learning experience," said Barrera. "Hopefully we can get more teams next year from the Guard."