Fort Leonard Wood Air Force squadron hosts ground transportation summit, rodeo

By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs OfficeAugust 9, 2023

Air Force Senior Airman Caleb Schmelzle, with the Kansas Air National Guard’s 190th Logistics Readiness Squadron, in Topeka, maneuvers a forklift through an obstacle course Friday under the watchful eyes of the judges and fellow competitors...
Air Force Senior Airman Caleb Schmelzle, with the Kansas Air National Guard’s 190th Logistics Readiness Squadron, in Topeka, maneuvers a forklift through an obstacle course Friday under the watchful eyes of the judges and fellow competitors during the Air Force Ground Transportation competitive rodeo event at a 368th Training Squadron training area near Bldg. 881. (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood’s 368th Training Squadron hosted a two-day ground transportation summit and rodeo event last week — bringing together more than 200 GT Airmen from installations around the world to discuss the future of their career field, while also getting to show off their skills through friendly competition.

Lincoln Hall Auditorium was the venue Aug. 3, when many of the GT career field’s senior enlisted leaders provided information on policy updates and topics, including the Department of Defense processes regarding joint-force requirements, called Global Force Management, and the Air Force’s new four-phase, 24-month Force Generation model, commonly called AFFORGEN.

One of the attendees, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dakotah Kingfisher, NCO in charge of the GT school’s Training, Validation and Operations Examiner Course here, said the decision makers in the GT career field look for inputs from throughout the ranks at events like this, to ensure policy updates are as effective as possible.

“We’re on our way to the future,” he said. “We’re going to start conducting business a little differently. Like the military does, we go with what works until eventually we have to evolve. So, we’re in that process right now of figuring out what the way forward is and how we’re going to change our business practices…We’re super excited to see what those changes are going to look like.”

One big change for GT Airmen is the TVOE Course itself — set up to certify NCOs, who can then validate training across the Air Force to ensure it mirrors standards adopted by the Department of Transportation and what is being taught to the newest GT Airmen arriving here for their technical school training — what the Army calls advanced individual training.

“We are doing the exact same training as our civilian counterparts, and it just brings us to that level where we’re credible,” Kingfisher said, noting the first TVOE Course students graduated earlier this year.

After a day of briefings, Friday was all about competition, said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dan Copeland, who, like Kingfisher, is a TVOE Course instructor here, along with being the lead event planner for the rodeo.

Copeland said 30 teams — representing active duty, Reserve and National Guard units — competed in five timed events throughout the day at one of the squadron’s training areas, in and around Bldg. 881, aimed at testing some of the multitude of tasks a GT Airmen may be required to perform.

In addition to a written test over Air Force GT instructions, one of the events, the 4k forklift maze, forced the competitors to quickly and safely operate one of the smallest pieces of what is called material handling equipment through a tight space while not allowing water to escape an open-top barrel.

“They have to, No. 1, get through (the maze) in time, but No. 2, the big piece is they’re still going to have fluid in that barrel and that’s essentially going to be that equalizing factor,” Copeland said. “You won’t generally see something that small unless you’re inside of a warehouse — a lot of these individuals drive something bigger.”

Another event involved maneuvering a 44-passenger bus around static objects, Copeland said.

“It’s a quick event, but it’s precision-based,” Copeland said.

A brand-new event this year incorporated one of the most-recent “modernized basic-control skills tests” GT Airmen will have to be able to perform, which involves a tractor trailer and what’s called a “reverse offset backing” maneuver, Copeland said.

“Yesterday, we heard a little about what it was going to look like,” he said, referring to the summit. “Now, the career field’s actually going to see it in practice — for the first time.”

The rodeo’s culminating event required the teams to pull a smaller vehicle, widely known as a “mule,” and the quickest four teams at that event were then required to demonstrate their abilities at chaining a vehicle to a trailer.

“It’s kind of stressed because their bodies are already fatigued from pulling the mules,” Copeland said. “We’re trying to do this like they might do down range — get them fatigued, but still do it accurately.”

The competitors at this year’s rodeo, “have all kinds of experience levels,” Copeland said, noting two student classes were on hand — most to watch, some to compete.

“We’ve supplemented one of the teams with students,” he said. “But there are all kinds of experience levels, from your individuals who just came out of tech training, to people who have potentially been in 20 years. It is a total-force effort.”

In the end, the winning team came from the 355th Logistics Readiness Squadron, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Tucson, Arizona. The five Airmen were presented with a championship belt they could take back to their home station.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hamilton, one of the unit’s TVOE instructors, said it takes “a lot of confidence, practice, hard work and picking the right team” to win the rodeo.

“We just came off a deployment with each other,” he said. “That helps — knowing everyone’s experience levels.”

Hamilton, who has been working in GT 13 years, said their career field is small, but it’s a “community.”

“The people in high places — you can count on them,” he said. “They’re always there for you, no matter where you go.”

Copeland said the in-person nature of the summit and rodeo has many benefits.

“No. 1, networking — you get to see people from around the career field you haven’t seen for a long time,” he said. “Then also, getting all the minds in one room. We can actually ask those hard questions, because sometimes you don’t get the answer you need until you’re standing face to face with someone.”

Copeland added bringing everyone back to Fort Leonard Wood is fitting as well.

“This is the Center of Excellence,” he said. “We all start here.”