by Pat Guyette, Spartan HQ Staff
Since mid-2011, Spartan Race’s main military partner has been the Air National Guard.
A countless number of our obstacle racers are military veterans and thousands of them are Airmen. We could not be more proud to align our brand with such a courageous group of Americans!
If you are a Spartan Race finisher, chances are you have been face-to-face with ANG’s logo, as you were attempting to successfully complete the traverse wall obstacle. Some of you, whether racing or spectating, have competed in the Air National Guard Pull-Up Challenge – the most popular festival challenge at our events. All of you, have undoubtedly said “thank you” in one way or another to our military for keeping us safe.
If you’ve enjoyed the challenges a Spartan Race course offers, you might be surprised to find out that most of these challenges correlate to and help prepare you for real life situations. None of these challenges are more real or more humbling, than what Darrin Kesler encountered in his most recent deployment in Afghanistan.
The following is the transcript of an interview I had with SrA (Senior Airman) Darrin Kesler, who is a TACP recruiter based in Peoria, IL.
PG: I’d like to start off by saying thank you for serving. A huge percentage of our athletes are veterans and we have a great appreciation for our armed forces.
PG: Great. So, where are you based out of?
DK: Peoria, IL Air National Guard Unit.
PG: Is that where you grew up?
DK: Yes I grew up right here.
PG: I’m interested to know, at what point in your lifetime… what was the defining moment where you said to yourself ”I want to join the military”…
DK: I was working as a welder for Caterpillar. I had already went to college and done that. Working at Caterpillar became really monotonous and I missed the team-like atmosphere that you have in school and playing football your whole life, and so I just decided one day that I needed a challenge, and went to a local recruiter and he said TACP would be the thing for me.
PG: What is a TACP?
DK: A TACP stands for Tactical Air Control Party. They facilitate the use of airpower through the Air Force and Army. They are going to be the liaison between the Air Force and Army to direct air power; whether it is for calling in an airstrike, or for recon purposes, or surveillance purposes, anything like that. Anything with a plane in the sky we are going to direct the ground commander how to use that power.
PG: Spartans train really hard to get ready for their race as does the military to get ready for war. What are the fitness requirements to become a TACP?
DK: Right, yes. We have our own minimum standard to get into the career field and that’s called the PAST test, physical agility and stamina test. Things that are required are a mile and a half run in 10 minutes and 47 seconds, 40 pushups in two minutes, 48 sit ups in two minutes, and then there’s a 6 pull up minimum you have to meet, palms facing out, no kipping or anything like that. And then there’s a ruck march. If you aren’t familiar with rucking it’s essentially putting a book bag on your back with about 50 pounds and walking a 15 minute mile pace for about 4 miles.
PG: I don’t know if you are aware, but the Air National Guard is our Pull Up Challenge partner in every festival. It’s the same rules, palms facing out, no kipping. That challenge is to see how many pull-ups you can do in one minute, so my question to you is how many pull-ups can you do in one minute?
DK: I can probably do about 20. 20 correct pull ups, if I cheat I little bit I could get about 30 or so, but 20 good ones.
PG: In the Air National Guard you can work part time and work other jobs while stationed domestically right? So what are Air Guardsmen’s main duties while stationed domestically?
DK: We have tons of career fields. So from working on an aircraft turning wrenches, or you want to fly on an aircraft, those opportunities are available. Or if you want to be a policeman or a firefighter, we have those opportunities available also. Maybe you want to work behind a desk and do you know logistics, intelligence, course readiness, personnel, we have all those kind of jobs also. So in any direction you are going in the outside world we will have something that correlates. Maybe not exactly, but something that’s going to be interesting for you to do for 2 days a month.
PG: So a really wide scope of jobs.
DK: Right, yes.
PG: So is it pretty safe to say that whatever their job is now they could find a similar position in the Air Guard?
DK: Something similar, yes. Like if you are out working in fashion design or something we probably we won’t have something for you there.
PG: Yeah, you guys buy all your clothes from one supplier right?
DK: Yup, it’s already pre-determined, so…
PG: Now, you recently got back from a deployment?
DK: Yeah, I got back in April 2011.
PG: Where were you deployed?
DK: I was in eastern Afghanistan.
PG: Obviously war is very real and it’s an integral part to protecting the rights and freedoms of the civilians of our great nation. During your deployment, when did the reality of war first really hit you?
DK: Pretty much as soon as we got there. We had to go to what’s called a COP, a combat outpost. We had to take helicopters, that was the only way to get there. So upon arriving they said “Hey there’s a mission going on here, and we are pretty much dropping you guys off and we don’t know if it’s going to be a hot LV or not.” And of course coming there for the first time, you really only know what you see in the movies, and it’s definitely different than that. When you are initially landing in the enemy zone there, it really gets real for you for a minute there.
PG: And what were your interactions with the locals like while you were deployed?
DK: Yeah we would talk to the locals. That wasn’t my main specific duty, but while out on patrols I always enjoyed talking with the kids, helping them out, and giving them stuff, and just seeing what they had to say. They were always asking questions. They were pretty smart, you know, I remember talking to one specific kid, and they don’t really keep track of age in years over there, but he would be like what we could call 7 or 8. And he was doing college level algebra, in his head, because he didn’t have a pen or paper. So one of the most wanted items there is a pen. Every kid wants a pen because a pen is a sign of wealth. So all the kids are wanting “Pen, pen, pen, pen”. Pen or chocolate. So they’re always asking for “a pen or a chocolate”.
PG: So did you always keep pens with you?
DK: Oh yeah. And you would get swarmed. Once you gave out one pen or one chocolate you’d get literally swarmed by kids. Once one kid comes out thirty kids come out. It was a good time, we had some fun.
PG: Awesome, so I see some similarities in that story to Spartan Race. Spartan Race is all about creating friendships and utilizing teamwork by helping out others on the course that you may not know, when they are in need. Can you tell me about your experience in Basic Training and where you see the similarities with running a Spartan race in terms of teamwork and bonding while going through a challenging experience?
DK: Sure yeah. I guess an example that correlates pretty much hand in hand is the obstacle course in basic training. Having the background that I have, I’m fairly athletic and like to think that I’m in shape and can do all of this stuff. So I’m starting out on the course and passing people and I’m running and doing my own thing. Come to find out there’s parts on the course where you need assistance. You know what I mean? You know you can’t climb this wall or you can’t do that all by yourself. So I learned real quick that this is a team exercise as opposed to an individual exercise. So, it seems like exactly how Spartan Race is. I was watching videos yesterday, and I remember the wall. People covered in mud and trying to get up that wall and they can’t get over by themselves, so whoevers on the other side has to lend you a hand to help them over. It’s the same thing.
PG: Spartan Racers have to overcome 20-30 obstacles on the course. What was the biggest physical obstacle you had to overcome in the battlefield?
DK: The hardest thing that we did was, we had a mission where we had to climb this mountain that was supposed to take two hours and ended up taking nine and a half hours. We were supposed to be up there for only 2 days, which of course got extended. So we didn’t really have water for one and a half to two days. So that was one of the harder things, you know, ten of us sharing and combining resources, to save enough energy for the trip back down in the coming days.
PG: At Spartan Race courses we have aid stations, and it never fails, every time we always have suggestions that there needs to be more aid stations out there. More water, more food for energy. It kind of prepares them for the real life experiences like you were thrown into, where you just have to kinda, dig deep.
DK: Dig deep, and push it through.
PG: Are you excited to run the Midwest Spartan Race with your fellow airmen October?
DK: I am. I didn’t get to do it last year so I’m excited to do it.
PG: Last year it was 3 mile sprint, and this year it’s a super, so its 8 miles. Should be a great challenge for you guys. Do you know we are notorious for a 400ft plus barbed wire crawl, sometimes up steep hills. Are you ready for that?
DK: I didn’t know that, but I’m up for the challenge.
PG: Obviously you missed your family and friends while deployed, but what is one small thing you have while home that you may have taken for granted and missed while away?
PG: Hot shower?
DK: No, just a shower at all. Like a working shower. Not pouring Dasani bottles over my head or a baby wipe shower, you know?
PG: Do you have any kids?
DK: I do, and I’m surprised you can’t hear her crying. Yeah I have one, she’s 5 months
PG: So she’s a little too young for our Jr. Spartan…
DK: Yeah a little bit but she’ll be doing it for sure. She’s a motivated one. She’s in her bouncy seat right now trying to jump as high as can be.
PG: What’s her name?
PG: And she’s 5 months, so we’ll be on the lookout in about 4 years for Mallory’s name on the leaderboards for the kids event.
DK: You got that right.
PG: So I just have a couple of more questions, I don’t want to keep you all day. What would you like to say to Spartan Racers who are on the fence about joining the military, and why the Air National Guard is a great choice to consider?
DK: Well, for the most part, Spartan Race is a great challenge for one day or a weekend. They get to challenge themselves, and enjoy challenging themselves, for however long it takes them to navigate through the course. Then it’s over. The Air National Guard will challenge you every single day.
PG: The Mid-west Spartan Race is an 8 mile course, with 25 or more obstacles. Any predictions on what your finishing time will be?
DK: Oh I don’t know. What’s a good time? I know that one guy that does all of them and wins them all, he’s pretty much a beast. What is a good time for him?
PG: Hobie Call, yeah, he’s an animal. Each course is different but he usually finishes supers in 40-60 minutes, a good 5 to 10 minutes faster than his closest competitor.
DK: Well it may be a stretch, but I’ll set my sights on that range. I have a feeling though, that I’ll be stopping to help out others on the course, so that may slow me down a little bit.
PG: Thank you very much for your time, and again, for helping to defend our nation.
DK: My pleasure, and I’ll see you in Illinois in October.
If you’d like to find out more about what the Air National Guard has to offer, check out www.goang.com, or call 1000-To-Go ANG to talk to a local recruiter today.