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Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy

Special operations airmen prepare for winter Olympics

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy)

Hours, days, weeks, months and even years of training have prepared two airmen for one moment — four explosive seconds at the top of a winding icy track in a city that once hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Early days of sprinting, heavy lifting, box jumps and squats have faded into late nights of sanding runners, making countless adjustments and pushing through frustrations to shave off hundredths of a second pushing a 500-pound sled 60 meters.

The goal? A chance to make a team in four years. A chance for a medal. A chance to represent their nation and the Air Force. A chance.


Two airmen within Air Force Special Operations Command were selected to compete with the USA Bobsled team. Capt. Dakota Lynch, a 34th Special Operations Squadron U-28A pilot, and Capt. Chris Walsh, a 24th Special Operations Wing special tactics officer, are push athletes who are ultimately competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2022.

"If you want it bad enough, you're going to do whatever it takes to be successful … that's the grit of this sport," said Walsh. "It takes four years of commitment to make yourself better with every opportunity and even then you're never really quite there … you have to keep grinding."

As push athletes, both airmen train vigorously on sprinting and strength to accelerate a bobsled up to 24 miles per hour in close to four seconds while the pilot focuses on navigating hairpin turns in a choreographed chaos down the ice.

Capt. Dakota Lynch, a U-28 pilot with the 34th Special Operations Squadron, performs sprints at The Fieldhouse on Nov. 16, 2018, in Park City, Utah.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy)

"It's a metal and carbon fiber bullet rifling down an ice track at speeds of 85-95 miles per hour," Lynch said. "It's like a fast-moving jet with a monkey at the controls while getting in a fight with Mike Tyson … it can be incredibly violent."

Preceding the countless hours in the gym and on the track, the ride begins with a dream to succeed at the highest athletic level. For Walsh, it was an article in a magazine and for Lynch, it was a challenge from friends while deployed to Africa. For both, it would begin a journey of bruises, scrapes and exasperation that would lead them to Park City, Utah, for the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation North American Cup.

The first steps of their journey was a gauntlet of tryouts and selection beginning with an open combine. From there, standout athletes were invited to rookie camp and then push championships in Lake Placid, New York. Then, both Lynch and Walsh were invited to national team trials to continue to the next phase — competition.

"It relates pretty closely to the job because there's days where you know it's going to be tough," said Walsh. "Every workout, every time I'm in the garage with the team, every step I take is either taking me closer or further away from my goal. If I'm lazy and I decide to slack one day … that workout may mean the difference between me making the Olympic team or not."

Both airmen attribute their time in AFSOC to their success on their bobsled journey. Walsh is a member of Air Force special tactics, which is a special operations ground force comprised of highly trained airmen who solve air to ground problems across the spectrum of conflict and crisis.

Capt. Chris Walsh, a Special Tactics officer with the 24th Special Operations Wing, taps Hunter Church, bobsled pilot for Team USA, at the finish of their second four-man run at the Utah Olympic Park on Nov. 17, 2018, in Park City, Utah.

"The qualities that special tactics fosters in individuals translates very well to bobsledding," said Walsh. "ST operators are mature, responsible and disciplined and need to be squared away as individuals. If they're not, the team as a whole is weak … so having that grit and determination to see the mission through is a big piece of what makes me successful here."

For Lynch, the team mentality of a four-man bobsled loosely correlates to responsibilities of piloting an aircraft. The U-28A aircraft Lynch flies provides an on-call capability for improved tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of special operations forces.

"In AFSOC, I am responsible for the aircraft, the men and the women on that aircraft and ensuring the mission is executed properly, safely and precisely," said Lynch. "Things aren't going to get handed to you — conditions are going to suck, you're going to get your crap punched in, but you're going to have to have the strength and resiliency to drive through it and press forward."

As active-duty airmen, both Lynch and Walsh have had to negotiate service commitments with leadership support. Both have been granted permissive temporary duty by their respective commanders to vie for a chance at being accepted into the Air Force World Class Athlete Program.

WCAP provides active duty, National Guard and reserve service members the opportunity to train and compete at national and international sports competitions with the ultimate goal of selection to the U.S. Olympic team while maintaining a professional military career.

"I wouldn't be here without my squadron and group commanders taking a chance on me and giving me a shot," said Walsh. "It makes me want to do really well to represent my country, the Air Force and AFSOC in a good light."

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.