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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg's 2010 Guardian Challenge logo. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Jan Kays)
The tradition of Guardian Challenge began in 1967 when Strategic Air Command opened its first missile combat competition, nicknamed "Curtain Raiser."
Two combat crews from each intercontinental ballistic missile wing and a single combat targeting and aligning team competed to determine the best of the best.
SAC cancelled the competition in 1968 because of commitments in Southeast Asia. The competition resumed in 1969 under a new name - Olympic Arena.
The combat format also changed by providing additional phases in combat crew exercises, readiness and launch drills. Maintenance participation also expanded from one team to two per missile wing.
In 1972 the competition format changed significantly. To foster increased command interest, missile combat crew and maintenance team participation increased and intercontinental ballistic missile wings were represented by four missile combat crews. Maintenance teams included electronic laboratory and missile handling teams from Titan II missile wings, and electro-mechanical and missile handling teams from Minuteman missile wings.
In 1973, Olympic Arena took place at two locations due to the absence of an operational Minuteman I missile launch facility at Vandenberg. The primary competition was held at Vandenberg while Minuteman I missile maintenance and combat targeting events were consolidated at Vandenberg.
Two significant competition firsts highlighted the competition in 1975. For the first time, women crewmembers competed; and security police teams joined the competition.
In 1976, the competition expanded again to include communications, civil engineering and vehicle support teams, while security police teams grew from three to seven competitors each.
In 1978, most Olympic Arena events were cut back. The vehicle support team competition was eliminated. Also, most Titan II maintenance events were held at McConnell AFB, Kan., since Vandenberg didn't have an operational Titan II missile complex. This two-location format continued for the next two years before consolidating at Vandenberg.
The Olympic Arena name was dropped from the 1982 competition and replaced with the SAC Missile Combat Competition. The event also marked the closest final score in the competition's history when the 44th Strategic Missile Wing at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., edged the 381st SMW at McConnell by just one point to capture the Blanchard Trophy.
The Titan missile wings finished 1-2-3 in 1983 over the Minuteman wings. That year, the 381st also joined the 351st SMW at Whiteman AFB, Mo., as the only unit to win the Blanchard Trophy four times.
In 1986, the competition regained the Olympic Arena title.
Peacekeeper missile competitors joined the Olympic Arena tradition in 1988, which was also marked by a one-point difference between the top two missile wings.
Three years later, the First Aces from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., marked another milestone after winning the Blanchard two consecutive years - a competition first. Security police teams didn't compete in 1991 because of Gulf War commitments.
In 1992, Olympic Arena's silver anniversary marked the end SAC's involvement in the competition. A year later, Air Combat Command resumed the tradition, which witnessed the 351st Missile Wing from Whiteman again claiming the Blanchard.
A new tradition opened in 1993 following the transfer of the 20th Air Force and its ICBM units to Air Force Space Command, and the merger of space and missile career fields into the growing command. Olympic Arena was renamed Guardian Challenge to reflect AFSPC's "Guardians of the High Frontier" motto.
Guardian Challenge's debut in May 1994 featured expanded events to include the command's space operations mission.
The competition also realigned from a wing-level to squadron-level competition. That opened the competition to teams from more than 60 squadrons across the command.
Space command increased the scope of Guardian Challenge in 1995. For the first time, Royal Air Force Flyingdales, England, and helicopter operations became part of the competition. Security forces were also back after not competing in the revamped '94 event.
The year 1997 marked the 30th anniversary of the competition as well as the 50th anniversary of the Air Force. For the first time, satellite operations teams from the 50th Sace Wing, Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., competed at Vandenberg.
In 1998, the competition included space operations teams from the 50th SW and 21st SW, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. It marked the first time that each mission operations area competed for the right to be the "best of the best." Additionally, the competition was realigned from a squadron-level to a wing-level competition.
The 45th SW from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., won the best spacelift honors for an unprecedented fifth consecutive time.
In 1999, the competition was scaled down to accommodate an increased operations tempo and reduced financial resources. Score posting was cut to one night and the competition ended a day early.
The new millennium
In 2000, for the first time in competition history, Air Force food services specialists competed for the "Best Chef" award to test their combat-ready skills. Additionally, the 310th Space Group, an Air Force Reserve Group at Schriever, fielded teams to compete for the Best Space Operations Wing team. With Air Force Reserve participation, Guardian Challenge took yet another stop toward the Total Force concept. Also for the first time in competition history, Air Force code controllers and space launch maintainers competed in the week-long event.
In 2002, the 460th Air Base Wing form Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., competed for the first time with communication and security forces. The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., sent observers to examine the possibility of future participation in the competition.
The 2003 competition was cancelled because of commitments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom - only the second time in history the competition was cancelled.
The 2004 competition included more than 200 Airman from throughout the command. That year also marked the first time that SMC was competing in Guardian Challenge when they sent a security forces team to compete.
In 2006, the Guardian Challenge opening ceremonies featured a few stars - James Woods, William Shatner, Tom Skerrit and others said a few words about the competition via video. That year also saw Vandenberg win both the Best Security Forces and Best Space Lift Operations Crew awards.
In 2008, while the 45th Space Wing did take the Schriever Trophy back to Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., the 30th Space Wing did win the "Best Spacelift Operations Crew" award.
In 2010, Guardian Challenge competition events at various locations span from March 1 to May 19, but the preparations for GC form a season that begins now. Culmination events and an awards ceremony will take place at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., in May.
For Vandenberg's 2010 Guardian Challenge Team page on Facebook, click here. (This page is not accessible from a .mil computer.)