Story by Bryan Gatchell on 04/17/2019FORT BENNING, Ga. After three days of competition among 19 U.S. Army mortar teams and one Dutch army mortar team, the 82nd Airborne Division prevailed as champions during the Best Mortar Competition April 11 here.
The 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Infantry School, at Fort Benning organized the second annual three-day competition to determine the best four-person mortar team as they take part in events to test their mettle as both a mortar crew and a team of Infantry Soldiers.
The winning team was from the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The squad included Staff Sgt. James Pennington, Sgt. Alec Norton, Spc. Christian Elliot and Pfc. Loren Dow. The 82nd Airborne Division also won during the first year of the competition, when Pennington and Norton were on the team.
"We've been working hard for three weeks to continue this tradition of winning," said Elliot.
Mortar Soldiers provide their units indirect fire when they must fight an entrenched enemy, operating 60-, 81- and 120-millimeter mortars to do so. Additionally, the squads must employ their crew and weapons in ground combat, operate and maintain automatic weapons, fire and recover antipersonnel and antitank mines, locate and neutralize mines, carry out scout missions to spot enemy troops and gun locations, and operate two-way radios and signal equipment to relay battle orders.
Capt. Trevor Reed, the mortar training company commander for 1st Bn., 19th Inf. Regt., said the competition is a challenging test of skill.
"It recognizes physical excellence," he said. "It also recognizes both the tactical and technical expertise of what it means to be a mortarman. It tests all the competitors in a realistic, challenging environment that they have to adapt to and overcome. And that's what's required when they're out on the battlefield fighting to win and survive."
The teams took the Army Combat Fitness Test, performed marches with mortar equipment, performed mortar-specific tests of their physical stamina, ran obstacle courses, and more to test their physical stamina. The crews performed land navigation and trauma lanes, demonstrated their proficiency on non-mortar weapons systems, and more to test their Infantry skills. They took exams on mortar calculations, conducted radio checks and calls for fire to test their ability as mortarmen.
The competition culminated on the final day with a live-fire exercise at Red Cloud Range, during which the teams performed an 81-millimeter hipshoot and 81-millimeter direct lay. In the hipshoot, the squads each have a direction of fire, an elevation and 10 minutes to place nine rounds on target, with the first three of those nine to adjust and get their fires on target. In the direct lay, the squad leader observes the target area and commands the squad directly.
The team members from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, who came in second place during the competition, plan to take their experiences at the competition back to Fort Hood.
"It was strenuous," said Staff Sgt. Gary Stewart, the squad leader. "We did a month of train-up before we came here. We weren't expecting what was to come. But it was fun; I definitely had a blast.
"It is definitely something I can take back to the unit and expand on with my guys back at the platoon," he added.
Now in its second year, the Best Mortar Competition is one of three competitions that takes place as part of Infantry Week, a time set aside by Fort Benning, the home of the Infantry, to celebrate the Infantry Soldier. In addition to the Best Mortar Competition, Infantry Week includes the Lacerda Cup, which is a combatives tournament, and the Best Ranger Competition, which tests Ranger-qualified two-person teams.
Elliot was glad it was Fort Benning that hosted the competition.
"This is kind of our home," he said. "We all went to basic here. We all did our initial mortarman training here. So this is kind of the mecca of the Infantry. So it meant a lot to come back here and represent the 82nd where we all started our military careers."
The top three teams were:
First place: 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, represented by Staff Sgt. James Pennington, Sgt. Alec Norton, Spc. Christian Elliot and Pfc. Loren Dow
Second place: 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, represented by Staff Sgt. Gary Stewart, Cpl. Ty Frame, Spc. Kyle Bunnell and Pfc. Jonathan Schweinshaupt and
Third place: 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas, represented by Staff Sgt. Jerome Urias, Sgt. Justin Peyton, Pfc. Bailey Hamilton and Pvt. John Mlynarek.