Aerial Porters test skills at 2024 Port Dawg Challenge

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kendra Ransum and Staff Sgt. Matthew Matlock
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Aerial porters from around the world set their sights on taking home "The Dawg" during the sixth biennial Port Dawg Challenge, April 16-18, 2024, held here at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.

Since 2010, Air Transportation Airmen have been converging at the 622nd Civil Engineer Group’s Transportation Proficiency Center at Dobbins Air Reserve Base to put their skills to the test in the Port Dawg Challenge. The PDC challenges competitors across 12 event stages while identifying, refining and incorporating techniques that enhance wartime mission readiness, demonstrate readiness mission capabilities, promote professionalism and foster esprit de corps within the aerial port community by recognizing those that go above and beyond simply understanding core career field tasks.

Representing the U.S. Air Force were 25 six-person teams from around Air Force Reserve Command as well as international teams from the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the United Kingdom's Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

"This year is the largest we've hosted, thus far," said Col. Reginald Trujillo, 944th Mission Support Group Commander from Luke AFB, Ariz., and Commander of the 2024 PDC. "Even those teams that may have not scored the [highest] are having a great time anyway because they're learning new things."

Each team must have a first-term Airman, which challenges the crews and stretches the experienced members to help the first-timers develop new skills. In contrast, the first-term airmen gain invaluable experience working alongside seasoned crews in a fast-paced but controlled environment.

However, the junior Airmen were not the only ones new to the PDC. This year, Australian and Canadian teams competed against the U.S. and European porters for the first time. This marked the U.K. team's third time at the PDC, but they were up against stiff competition as these newcomers brought the heat with the Royal Australian Air Force being named Top International Team.

"It was challenging but also fun and rewarding because we got to come together," said Royal Australian Air Force Cpl. Emma Nearmy, No. 22 Squadron, Air Movements. "I think it's really important for the Royal [Australian] Air Force, especially, to compete against the other nations for international engagement because the camaraderie we build whilst here is second to none. I don't think you'll experience it anywhere else."

The Port Dawg Challenge, named after its trophy – a full-size bronze bulldog simply called "The Dawg" – began with the 2019 winners, the 76th Aerial Port Squadron from Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, returning the trophy for this year's competition. This year's winners will unleash the trophy and return home, displaying it at their unit until the next event.

The competition was intense, but one unit distinguished itself from the others. The 32nd APS from Pittsburgh ARS, Penn., triumphed as the 2024 PDC winners, proudly lifting their prize trophy. Notably, they left their mark as the first team from the 4th Air Force to win in the history of the PDC, carrying not just their pride but also marking a significant milestone.

"Anytime someone stumbled or faltered, their wingman put their arm around them and cheered them up, and we marched on," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Lance Cooper, 32nd APS NCOIC of quality assurance, PDC Team Chief and one of the six team members of the 2024 PDC winning team. "I remember the difference between our first day and today, where we had never worked together on this level, and now we're family. So it was a great experience for everybody."

This year, the trophy was renamed "The Sheppard" in honor of John "Sheppard" Herring, a distinguished member of the Aerial Port community. Herring, alongside the 76th APS, marked the official start of the competition by leashing "The Sheppard" for their successors.

"Mr. Herring has been a pivotal figure and innovator in the Aerial Port community for nearly half a century," said Chief Master Sgt. Lonnie Patchen, the Port Dawg Challenge Chief. "He has led some of the most significant organizational transformations in AFRC's history, including establishing the Transportation Proficiency Center."

In addition to the Sheppard, various awards were presented for all 12 events. While the signature Sheppard trophy is shaped like a bulldog, the event-specific trophies are miniature versions of the military aircraft chocks used by APS Airmen.

The 2026 PDC winners are:
- 32nd APS won the 10k Forklift Event
- 32nd APS won The Passenger Processing Event
- 462 Squadron Royal Auxiliary won the 25k Halvorson Event
- 73rd APS won the Cargo Processing Event
- 32nd APS won The Cargo Pallet Build-Up Event
- 462 Squadron Royal Auxiliary won the Joint Inspection Event
- 22nd APS won the Load Planning Event
- 70th APS won the Cargo Restraint Event
- 67th APS won the Fit-To-Fight Event
- 86th APS won the Air Terminal Operations Center Event
- Royal Australian Air Force won the Knowledge Test Event
- 27th APS won the Engine Running On load/Offload event
- Royal Australian Air Force was named the Top International Team
- 32nd APS was named the 2024 Port Dog Challenge Champion

The PDC last took place in 2019. Initially planned for 2021, it was postponed due to factors including the COVID-19 pandemic, further delaying the event to this year and resulting in the 2019 winning team holding the championship title for five years. While Air National Guard and Regular Air Force porters have competed in years past, they were absent this year. However, planners are aiming to reintegrate them and expand to other nations.

Trujillo is optimistic about the 2026 PDC, hoping to include more partners from the Indo-Pacific and European regions.

"I think because of the success of this Port Dawg Challenge and the three international teams that were here, the word is gonna spread quick, and we're gonna have other teams beating down our door to be a part of it," said Trujillo

The next PDC will be held in 2026 here.

To view additional media from the event, click here.