618 Air Operations Center total force members tackle world’s longest non-stop river race

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Erik Anthony
  • 618th Air Operations Center

Last month two total force members, Maj. Rebecca Bissette and Lt. Col. Matthew List, completed the 11th annual Missouri American Water MR340, a 340 mile river race across the state of Missouri.

The MR340, touted as the world’s longest non-stop river race, is held annually, and invites kayakers and canoers from around the world to brave heat, weather and barge traffic. The tandem pair spent several days paddling their 18 foot red kayak, named the “Pearl Jo,” almost non-stop along the Missouri river from Kansas City to St. Charles, MO. 

Maj. Bissette, an Air National Guardsman, is currently serving in the 618 AOC as a command and control executive officer.  Lt. Col List is an Air Force Reserve individual mobilization augmentee and is currently working in the 618 AOC as a diplomatic clearance specialist.

The two total force augmentees recount the first night of paddling down the river with more than 400 fellow competitors.

“It was approaching midnight and with little light from an obscured full moon all we could see were hundreds of navigation lights dancing across the Missouri River.  It was so cool,” said Bissette.

Fellow service members from the 618 AOC served as their support team, breaking up support crew responsibilities for the race into four legs. 

“It made it much more doable, especially with the heat and long hours,” said Bissette.  “It’s so hard for folks to get and take time off in this busy world.  We figured if we broke the race down into legs for our support crew we would be more likely to get support, and we certainly did.  We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.” 

Their supporters included Lt. Col. Anthony Calabrese, Lt. Col. Art Hingst (along with his wife Sandra and daughter), Capt. Paul Overdiek, Mr. Jason Barber, Tech. Sgt. Zach Sobotta, Senior Airman Adam Robinson and Airman 1st Class Tyler Mudd each pairing with another to cover one of the four MR340 legs delivering food, water, and driving the chase car.

“All of our support team members kept in touch to coordinate with each other, to handle handoffs and report back to our friends and coworkers who tracked our progress online,” said Bissette. “It was so great, we would get text messages (when we had service) cheering us on and telling us how far we had gone based on the online race tracker.”    

Capt. Paul Overdiek, a ground support crew member and fellow teammate in the 618 AOC, motivated Bissette and List to the finish.

“Honestly, we thought the two of them were kind of crazy for wanting to do this,” said Overdiek.  “But once you’re there, you really get caught up in the excitement.” 

Bissette and List navigated around a 12-barge tug, endured 116 degree heat indexes, and paddled for up to 11 hours straight before taking a break.

“It was tough, but there were so many cool things to see, and being around the other boaters was a lot of fun,” said Bissette. “There are parts of the Missouri River that you can’t see unless you travel there by water.” 

Surrounded by some of the most tranquil and diverse scenery Missouri has to offer, they saw bald eagles, the Missouri state capital, and one partially submerged Volkswagen stuck on a wing dike in the river.

“I thought we might be hallucinating, but there it was…a Jetta nose down in the river” recounts Bissette.  When asked if he would do it again, List said with a laugh, “I would love to, but maybe next year we can get a faster boat.” 

(Maj. Rebecca Bissette, 618 AOC command and control executive officer was the main contributor for this article.)