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The 76er Aerial Port Skills Challenge 2021

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Noah J. Tancer
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The 76th Aerial Port Squadron is back at it with this year’s 76er Skills Challenge 2021 edition, April 30–May 1. The 76er is an annual event held at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, emulating a local version of the Air Force Reserve Command’s Port Dawg Challenge, which is held every two years. The PDC pits the best port dawg teams the command has to offer against each other in the name of training, esprit de corps and the hope of winning squadron bragging rights.

The 76th APS is the standing PDC champion after taking home the coveted AFRC Port Dawg trophy in 2019. The COVID-19 crisis dropped a bone in the works, canceling last year’s 76er challenge, and pushed the AFRC challenge to 2022. With COVID-19 cases dropping, increasing numbers of vaccinations and preventative measures in place, the dawgs are out of the kennel and ready to play. 

“The 76th APS skills challenge allows us the opportunity to grow as a unit, and our Airmen to grow individually in both their proficiency and their team mentality and it always, always builds up our morale,” said Lt. Col. Elisa McGahan, commander of the 76th APS.

Mid-level noncommissioned officers, some getting their first taste of leadership, guide their teams through six events: a physical fitness test, 10K (10,000 lbs) standard forklift obstacle course, 25K (25,000 lbs) Halverson obstacle course, pallet build-up, 100-question knowledge test and cargo restraint/center-of-balance calculation. During each challenge, the packs are awarded points for safety, timing, skill and teamwork, ending with a final tally deciding the winner.

“It allows us the opportunity to test those skills against each other. So we break up into teams and we divide out the skill levels within those teams,” said McGahan. “It’s great to challenge our individuals to become better 2T2s (the Air Force Specialty Code, or career designator, within APS) and to work together in a team, getting to know each other a little more­—cross pollinate I should say—and work with people they normally don’t work with. Finally, just to build morale and comradery across the squadron.”

From within the 76th APS ranks, through careful observation of the Airmen’s performance and attitude during the 76er challenge and the squadron’s more traditional training, a well-balanced team of brawn, brains and heart will be selected by leadership to defend their AFRC title in the next Port Dawg Challenge, and prove once again that through continued innovation in training and a family style culture, the 76th APS is the alpha of the AFRC pack. 

The unit’s morale chant, heard frequently throughout the challenge, vocalizes their fervor:

“Port Dawgs! RRRUFF!”