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Special Warfare Training Wing hosts Lightning Challenge 2022 Nov. 4, 2022

The Special Warfare Training Wing hosted Lightning Challenge 2022, an annual, service-level tactical air control party competition to identify the best TACP Airmen in the AF Nov. 3-4, 2022 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis.

TACP Airmen have long been the lead precision strike experts for the AF, integrating Airpower with ground force movements to identify, track, target and engage enemy forces near friendly forces to achieve all-domain superiority in combat. The annual Lightning Challenge tests TACP Airmen through competition in agile combat employment, physical fitness, and marksmanship to identify the best and most multi-capable Airmen in the world, prepared to fight and win on the all-domain battlefields of the future.

“The Special Warfare Training Wing is honored to host Lightning Challenge 2022,” said Col. Nathan Colunga, SWTW commander. “This is an amazing opportunity for our TACP instructors to hone their mission planning capabilities and for our TACP trainees to witness firsthand what ‘right’ looks like in the operational TACP community.”

Previous Lightning Challenges have been week-long endeavors, but Lightning Challenge 2022 was a two-day, continuous engagement. For the team of TACP instructors from the 353rd Special Warfare Training Squadron and the 6th Combat Training Squadron, Detachment 2 who planned the competition, their primary goal was realism to enhance the lethality and readiness of operational TACP Airmen.

“In real-world scenarios, TACPs rarely have the time to rest between physically-demanding events and must continue serving as the critical air to ground node for ground forces,” said Maj. William West, 353rd SWTS director of operations and the lead mission planner for Lightning Challenge 2022. “By simulating a real mission, we believe this iteration of Lightning Challenge will pose a physical and mental challenge unlike any other for the contestants.”

Because TACP Airmen at the SWTW were part of the team that devised Lightning Challenge 2022, SWTW TACP Airmen declined to participate in the competition to preserve the parity of the event and instead focus on the mission planning aspect of the competition.

“Mission planning is an integral part of any operation because it provides direction and a strategic context for organizations adapting to new demands,” said Capt. Michael Atkins, 6th CTS, Det. 2 director of operations. “By planning this event, instructors can reflect internally and identify the necessary skills required to operate in a multi-domain environment.”

Lightning Challenge tested contestants on core TACP skills like map symbology and plotting, radio programming, call for fire, marksmanship skills, as well as physical skills like rucking, team casualty evacuation exercises, and the operator fitness test that includes a 1500-meter swim, a new requirement for TACP Airmen.

At the end of the grueling two-day competition, 1st Lt. Joseph Messare from the 7th Air Support Operations Squadron emerged victorious as the best TACP and the 20th ASOS, comprised of 1st Lt. John Dabagian and Senior Airman Elijah Rutter, was recognized as the best ASOS of Lightning Challenge 2022.

“Congratulations to Joseph, John, and Elijah on a well-deserved win,” said Colunga. “You have embodied the core attributes of the Special Warfare Airmen we need to win the future fight and demonstrated why TACP, as the original multi-domain career field, is as relevant and needed as ever as we shift gears to prepare for strategic competition.”

Members of the SWTW provide initial training for all U.S. Air Force Special Warfare training specialties, to include combat controllers, pararescue, special reconnaissance and TACP Airmen. 

To learn more about TACP Airmen or other AFSPECWAR career opportunities, go to:

For more imagery from Lightning Challenge 2022, go to: