FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 18, 2018) -- The 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Benning, Georgia, concluded the inaugural Best Mortar Competition with an awards presentation April 17.

This year's inaugural Best Mortar Competition, composed of nine four-Soldier teams from Army units from across the country, began April 14.

Over the course of three days, competitors conducted the Army Combat Readiness Physical Fitness Test, four mortar skills exams, live-fire events on the 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortar systems, night operations with mortar systems, land navigation, medical lanes and obstacle courses.

The competition ranked both teams and individuals. The top three teams were:
-- First place: Staff Sgt. James Pennington, Sgt. Ryan Mosser, Cpl. Jacob Nolan and Cpl. Alec Norton of the 82nd Airborne Division
-- Second place: Staff Sgt. Robert Haldeman, Sgt. Robert Reynolds, Cpl. Tanner Brown and Pfc. Mark Chouccoli of the 75th Ranger Regiment
-- Third place: Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Brown, Sgt. Lucero Geovany, Spc. Floyd Chase and Spc. Nolan Hammel of the 101st Airborne Division.

In the individual category, the top three competitors were:
-- First place: Sgt. 1st Class Yuslandy Figueredo, 198th Infantry Training Brigade
-- Second place: Sgt. Robert Reynolds, 75th Ranger Regiment
-- Third place: Sgt. Ryan Mosser, 82nd Airborne Division

According to Capt. Luis Rivas, the lead planner of the competition with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 19th Infantry Regiment, the three-day competition was designed to gather the mortar community together in order to test how well the doctrine was being followed. Rivas and his team conducted a pilot version of the mortar competition in 2017.

"The biggest thing we took away from the pilot was that we needed to focus on technical ability over physical ability," Rivas said. "We wanted to have every event moving forward include a mortar task to test a private all the way to a senior NCO. … We wanted to have a progression of events, from day one to day three, where we could replicate how they get trained in the initial entry program."

Additionally, the 11C competitors, otherwise known as indirect fire Infantryman, were also tested on their basic Infantry skills.

"They did a machine gun shoot and also an M4 shoot," Rivas said. "We wanted to test their basic Infantry skills because an 11 Charlie is also an 11 Bravo and does all of those tasks."

Rivas, as an Infantry officer himself, attended the Infantry Mortar Leaders Course in 2017 to get a better grasp on how mortars operate as well as on the mortar community before taking command of the mortar company. He relinquished his command in February of 2018 to focus solely on the competition and said he couldn't be more proud of the Soldiers who came out to compete.

"They are the most dedicated and technical professionals that I have experienced in a long time as an Army officer," Rivas said. "Their technical ability combined with their physical and mental acuity set the standard that doesn't always show across the Army in this small community. Sometimes the mortar men do not get the appreciation as being the ones in charge of the most casualty-producing weapons system at the lower echelons like the company level."

He added that each competitor remained highly motivated throughout the competition, always wanting to do their best no matter what.

Sgt. 1st Class Yuslandy Figueredo, a competitor with the post's 198th Infantry Brigade team, echoed Rivas' sentiments. Although Figueredo won first place individually as the best mortar Soldier in the competition, his team finished seventh overall primarily due to the loss of one of their teammates, who was injured on the first day.

"We could have dropped off, but we as a team decided to continue and finish," said Figueredo. "Even though we continued to drop in our placing, our morale stayed high the entire time."

Figueredo hopes to see this competition continue as a tool to highlight the mortar community.

"We are a small community, and we need to shine because we are needed on the battlefield," Figueredo said. "Indirect fire is essential for winning battles and wars. I think it will build team cohesion if we continue to have this competition."

Rivas wants to emphasize the importance of the mortar military occupational specialty to the Army.

"I'm hoping this competition increases awareness of one of the most misunderstood MOSs in the Army," said Rivas. "With their ability to put effects on targets, it's a system and a profession that we can hopefully see better developed because of this competition."