Officers from Helicopter Training Squadron EIGHTEEN and Helicopter Training Squadron EIGHT teamed up to tackle the Fourth Annual Military Wilderness Challenge in Fayetteville, W.Va. earlier this month. The four-person squad successfully completed the grueling two-day event.

Cmdr. John Quillinan, USN; Lt. Cmdr. Thad Smith, USN and Capt. Genevieve Studer, USMC from HT-18, joined Capt. Joe Heintz, USMC from HT-8 to form the team. The unit struggled through the five-event ordeal claiming second place overall and first place Marine Corps.

HT-18 has put together a team all four years of the event. The first year, the squadron commanding officer asked someone to put together a team from some of the serious runners from HT-18. Quillinan was one of the four team members. The team placed third in the Marine division that first year and has continued to place each year. Two years ago, the team placed second in the Marine Division, and last year they took first Marine division and first overall.

The foursome competed well though all the events, but two flat tires in the mountain bike portion of the competition cost them vital time and derailed a chance at repeating as champions. However, the adversity showed them the great character of the competing teams as one a team of helicopter air crewmen let them use their spare tire to complete that segment of the challenge. It is that kind of interaction with fellow service members that makes the games such an enjoyable event for the team, said Studer.

“The events were a great way to meet people and experience connections you might have within the fleet,” she stated.
The five-event challenge consists of an 8K mountain run, 14-mile whitewater race, 12-mile mountain bike race, 7-mile duckie race (inflatable two-person kayaks) and 14-mile mountain hike. Teams must consist of four people, one of whom must be a woman. Times are conducted based off of team finishes and everyone on the team must be within 100 feet of each other at all times. Teamwork is key to the challenges as harnesses are provided to each team to help faster members of the team support those who are slower or fatigued.

“The teamwork was amazing. Everything really worked together,” Studer said of her teammates. “They were great at evaluating how we could make it through faster. It was a blessing.”

This was Studer’s first year on the team. Quillinan was a founding member, and has been the one constant on the team all four years. This is Heinz’ second year and Smith’s third. Quillinan concurs that continuity is incredibly helpful in competing in the challenge.

“It’s real helpful to know what to expect,” he stated. “We stay together as a team until someone can’t make the event.”

There is no mistaking the grueling intensity of the competition itself. The events are difficult even in the best locations, but the event is held in the Appalachian mountains which adds a whole new level of difficulty to the endeavor. Each member of the team works out throughout the year to keep in shape, with only periodic workouts in the various events to prepare.

“Training for next year’s challenge began the day after we came back,” Quillinan said.

But the ultimate goal of the challenge is to have fun. The team captains all run an wet, muddy and cold obstacle course Thursday after check-in for a friendly challenge, and the sponsors provide a second day social for the teams as they complete the last event. The social includes drinks, food and music to go with the presentation of the awards.

“It’s beautiful up there. The leaves are changing, and it’s just a great experience,” Quillinan said.

“If a professional organization had put this on, it wouldn’t have been any better,” added Heintz. “It is the best event like this I have seen.”