Team building hike with the 146th Security Forces Squadron Published Sept. 25, 2013 By Senior Airman Nicholas Carzis 146th Airlift Wing 8/04/2013- CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD STATION, Calif. -- A hot and dry wind blew across the entrance of the Sycamore canyon trail, as members of the 146th Security Forces Squadron exited the blue stagnant bus they had used for transport. A quick head count was called, and the team finalized adjustments to each other's gear before the hike. Previously briefed on the conditions and the terrain of the trail, they were ready to put their boots to the ground as part of a team-building exercise and equipment training. Leading the hike were Staff Sgt. Justin Cookson and Tech. Sgt. Keith Ford who instructed the team to line up in columns of two. The Sycamore Canyon trail winds through the bottom of Sycamore Canyon from Newbury Park to the Pacific Coast Highway. Much of the canyon floor is still covered with giant sycamore and oak trees. However, recent fires have burned away most of the scenic landscape that once lay there. At the beginning of the hike we were accompanied by the smell of burnt wood still lingering along the steep hills, and were able to see how much damage was actually caused by the fires. A quarter of the way into the trail, the team stopped to take a photo along the tops of the rigged and scenic cliffs the trail has to offer. It was an amazing day for a hike as the sun shined bright, illuminating the amazing backdrop behind them. Smiles and laughter erupted from within the group as they prepared for the 1400 foot descent down the trail. Staff Sgt. Cookson is an avid hiker, and helped prepare the team by scouting the route and mapping the distance beforehand. "I really enjoy hiking quite a bit, and usually can find myself hiking seven to eight times a month, usually spending two thirds of my time hiking in the Sycamore Canyon area," said Cookson. "It's a shared interest with many in the local area and makes it a perfect opportunity for training and team building within the Unit." As the hike continued, the teams split in two groups for a portion of the hike; those who wished to push themselves physically could join a team that would "step it out" and move to a faster pace than the others. Those who wished to remain with the main hub could remain at the same pace. This created friendly competition within the groups and made for a fun atmosphere. Towards the end of the hike, both teams reunited and formed one single team to finish the hike together. Along the way, the team took turns calling cadence and helping others stay in formation and in step with the rest of the moving team. Apart from serving as a team-building exercise, the hike served as an opportunity to field test a new piece of equipment called an Improved Outer Tactical Vest or IOTV for short. This piece of equipment was slowly implemented into the National Guard as supplies became more readily available. Replacing the older Interceptor vests, the consensus about the quality of the new vest seemed to be the same within the group, and they like the upgrade. "Most people liked them including myself, and to my surprise they managed to be even bigger than the interceptor vest," said Cookson. At the bottom of the hike, scenic views from the Malibu coastline and the cool ocean breeze greeted the team as they made their way back onto the bus to take them back to the base. Tech. Sgt. Keith Ford was satisfied with the overall performance and success of the hike, and hopes to utilize these types of team building exercises in the future. "It was outstanding to get our guys together for this hike, team building and the experience of working together as a unit is invaluable for both the leadership and the members of our unit," said Ford.