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234th IS Commander wins sword fighting gold medal

A photo of Lt. Col. Robert G. Childs, 234th Intelligence Squadron commander, posing for a competitor portrait

Lt. Col. Robert G. Childs, 234th Intelligence Squadron commander, poses for a competitor portrait Feb. 18, 2018, at Huntington Beach, California. Childs competes as a martial arts sword fighter throughout the world, and became a world champion in the open rapier and dagger category at Swordfish XIV, Gothenburg, Sweden. (Courtesy photo by Angel Jeremiah Uribe)

A photo of Lt. Col. Robert G. Childs, 234th Intelligence Squadron commander standing atop a medal podium after winning a sword fighting competition

Lt. Col. Robert G. Childs, 234th Intelligence Squadron commander, stands atop a medal podium after winning the Open Dagger and Rapier category at Swordfish XIV, Nov. 3, 2019, at Gothenburg, Sweden. Swordfish XIV is governed by the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance which involves the study and practice of historical European fighting techniques. (Courtesy photo by Angel Jeremiah Uribe)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

The final competition in the Open Rapier and Dagger category tournament came down to two men. One man, an Air National Guard squadron commander and the other, a surgeon from Russia. They had faced each other before. Both competitors brought their skill and perseverance. The competition was intense.

The victory went to Lt. Col. Robert G. Childs, 234th Intelligence Squadron commander, as he brought home a gold medal in his category at the Swordfish XIV martial arts tournament. The international competition is governed by the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance which involves the study and practice of historical European fighting techniques.

Childs officially started training in Olympic-style fencing in high school, but switched to the martial-art style of sword fighting in college. He practices sword fighting two to three times a week when he is not working at Beale as a squadron commander in the 195th ANG Wing.

“Knowing that my art is being validated in a martial context is really the most important thing for me,” said Childs.

“The 234th IS has two missions essentially,” said Childs. “On the Federal side, we are part of the Distributed Ground System enterprise. We basically ‘track bad guys and their toys’. For the State of California, if there is a forest fire, a lost hiker, or anything that requires civil support, our squadron will provide the analysis for the imagery that we receive. We will relay the products back to the necessary authorities, whether that’s local law enforcement or otherwise.”

Childs credits much of his ability to lead his squadron from the mental discipline he learned throughout his years of sword fighting.

“Within the sword fight, there is a mental discipline involved with it that you can apply to any aspect of your life,” Childs said. “There is an aspect of how you learn and you can apply that to anything your life.”

Childs mentioned an excerpt from “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi where everything in everyday life can be found in the sword fight and everything in the sword fight can be found in everyday life.

“An example is the way people respond to a threat,” said Childs. “It can be a big threat or rather minor, but people have common ways that they respond to it. Different people have different responses, but all of these responses follow a pattern. Once you learn to read that pattern, you can have an understanding that this person who is saying one thing might have a little bit more that they need to talk about. I’ve used that a great deal helping Airmen, whether it’s to resolve a personal problem at home or a career problem that they are having currently within the Guard.”

One of Child’s former students agrees that what she learned while sword fighting she uses in her Air Force career.

“In sword fighting, you have to pay attention to tells, which are signals your opponent gives you when they are about to make a move,” said Staff Sgt. Mary C. Walker, 39th Communications Squadron cybertransport supervisor, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. “You have to have a lot of muscle memory that comes from focused practice. It’s the same with supervising Airmen, working with challenging leadership, and working with people in general. You have to learn to read their tells so you can respond correctly.”

Learning to work with people and creating a cohesive environment is an important part of today’s Air Force leadership.

“This is where us, as leaders, have to put to use all the skills that we learned in our development and training and [professional military education],” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright when he spoke at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in 2017. “We have to motivate, encourage, inspire. We have to solve problems at the highest level; we are responsible for creating an environment for our Airmen to thrive.”

Another way an Airman can develop mental resilience and thrive is to find a hobby or a passion.

“Finding a passion is an absolute necessity!” said Walker. “Even if you don’t know your passion, get out there and learn something new. Accomplish something, because accomplishment is positive. It combats negative emotions and boosts resilience and satisfaction. It gives the brain something to focus on besides work, allows you to think in different creative ways. Hobbies can give tenseness and negativity from work or other sources time to settle. Hobbies are a great way to meet new people with common interests. And if you do have a passion, that’s great! It’s just one more thing to look forward to every day.”

Finding something that people are passionate about is enormously important, said Childs. It’s not just for their mental well-being, but important for their emotional well-being, as well. They should be doing it because it’s something that they enjoy and it brings them happiness.

“I have a simple rule that I apply to my tenant of command as well,” Childs said. “Strive to be better tomorrow than you are today. If you’re doing that, then you are doing it right.”