FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Day two of the three-day inaugural Best Mortar Competition here, Sunday, included live-fire of the 60mm mortar.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Smail, a range safety officer, explained the live-fire exercises taking place on day two and the method of engagement for Soldiers involved in the competition.

Each Soldier in the competing four-man teams was issued two 60mm high explosive rounds. Targets were arranged 350 to 400 meters downrange, Smail said.

Because targets were so close, the round travelled very high, perhaps 2,000 feet, before gravity took over, plunging it to the ground. It took an average of 10 seconds between firing and visual impact and then another two-to-three seconds for the audible explosion to report back.

Smail said 250 meters was the closest range allowed during the competition due to safety concerns. During combat, however, a closer range is acceptable if absolutely necessary.

The 60mm high explosive round could actually be seen arcing into the sky and then detonating with a loud explosion.

Smail said he fired the 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortars in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

He noted that the rounds have multiple option fuses such as impact, proximity (air burst) or delayed-impact, which is commonly used for penetrating a bunker. The fuse, at the tip of the round, can be manipulated to the desired setting.

As each four-man team stepped up to the firing line, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Wood loudly reinforced the steps necessary to engage the targets: "Line up. Charge zero. Rounds on impact. Air burst don't count."

Sgt. 1st Class Brett Erickson, one of two observers, recorded each hit as rounds impacted targets. Once a vehicle received a direct hit, the competitor received points for properly having effects on target.

Staff Sgt. Charles Jutz, responsible for safety on the range, said it takes a lot of practice and experience to be proficient to accurately engage a target with the 60mm mortar system.

The blast radius for a 60mm round impact is 15 meters, Jutz said, adding "you don't want to be within that radius because it's the kill zone."

Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Murphy, an evaluator, said the 60mm mortar is typically fired by two Soldiers, though it is possible for one Soldier to operate the weapon.

The 60mm mortar has a maximum range of 3,490 meters, he said. That means the target could be out of sight, so a forward observer maintains visibility of the target.

The live-fire competition continued for much of the morning.

Spc. Phillip Condra, a competitor from the 198th Infantry Training Brigade, did not hit a vehicle, but he did get close, sending up a cloud of dust. He said he felt his team was doing well in the competition on the second day.

Condra did not have time to reminisce too much about his live-fire results, however, because he and his team were soon running to their next objective three miles away -- at Eagle Tower, where Soldiers rappelled down a 34-foot tower and conducted additional mortar tasks.

Later in the day, the competitors participated in a live-fire with M-4 carbines and M-240B machine guns.


Competitors in the Best Mortar Competition are from the 11C indirect fire infantry military occupational specialty. All are members of a mortar squad, section or platoon and all are highly proficient with the Army's 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortars.

This year, seven four-man teams are competing from around the Army. Teams this year come from the 82nd Airborne Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 10th Mountain Division, the 7th Infantry Division, the 1st Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, and the 198th Infantry Training Brigade.

The BMC is meant to increase esprit de corps in the mortar community and elevate the desire for excellence and competitiveness, said Capt. Luis Rivas, lead planner for BMC.

Indirect fire Infantry Soldiers provide critical capabilities to Army ground forces and as such, their proficiency contributes immeasurably to Army readiness, he added.

Soldiers with the 11C MOS get 14 weeks of basic training with mortars upon enlisting. When they attain the rank of sergeant, staff sergeant, or sergeant first class, they get advanced training at the Infantry Mortar Leader Course. Lieutenants and captains also are eligible to attend IMLC.

Instructions include tactical employment of the mortar platoon, graphics, fire planning, mechanical training, and forward observer and fire direction control procedures.