FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, participated in the 2019 Best Mortar Competition from April 9 to 12.
The common hallmark of a "Big Red One" Soldier is often defined as grit. The evolution of the complex battlefield demands an equal output of lethality, resiliency and professionalism that Soldiers of the 1st Inf. Div., personify through their achievements and training. On April 9, Soldiers from the Dagger Brigade's Thunder Battalion demonstrated these necessary qualities in their participation at the 2019 Best Mortar Competition hosted in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Bumgarner, Sgt. Braden Luka, Cpl. Steven Peden and Spc. Hector Gomez represented the 1st Inf. Div. at this year's competition. Fort Benning only accepted the top 20 mortar squads, out of the 60 applying teams.
"It was the toughest and most rewarding experience in my career," Bumgarner said. "I'm proud of the team, and it was an honor to compete with them against the greatest Soldiers in this profession."
Created in 2017, the Best Mortar Competition challenges the U.S Army's most elite mortarmen through a series of physical and mental mortar specific tests to identify the best Soldier. The competition tests the Soldiers' expertise, stamina and determination as they navigate a three-day challenge with minimal sleep, food and support. These tasks and conditions are no surprise to Thunder Battalion's team members.
The team returned from a one month rotation to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, a week before this year's competition.
"It won't be easy to go from a field exercise to this competition," Bumgarner said. "But, these guys have proved their potential in both the garrison and field environments. They've demonstrated their competency, professionalism and drive regardless of any condition."
Without the luxury of a competition training program, these Soldiers lived up to their Brigade's motto, "Ready now."
The competition began with the execution of the new Army Combat Fitness Test at 5 a.m. before the teams moved on to the rest of the day's events.
Day one tested Soldiers on their proficiency of gunner tasks on the 81-mm mortar system, the setup and declination of the M2 Aiming Circle, Tactical Combat Casualty Care, Fire Direction Center tasks and nighttime mortar firing point occupation.
"I haven't touched an 81-mm system since basic training," said Gomez, during the gunner's exam event.
Gomez and Peden, two members of the team who had the least amount of training on this system, qualified with expert scores on this event -- despite the lack of experience.
The team would continue to demonstrate excellence in the TCCC event as they garnered commendation from lane observers in a top-five finish. Day one culminated with a two-mile ruck march that demanded an eight-minute mile pace while teams carried the 60-mm and 81-mm mortar systems.
Teams were immediately transitioned to an air assault mission, transporting them to unfamiliar terrain at night to conduct a hasty occupation of a mortar firing point. Once completed, competitors were given one hour to rest before moving onto day two's events.
Day two began with the 147147 of Fort Benning's Downing Mile, a rigorous three-mile trail run that competitors navigated through with their rucks. The end was rewarded with an immediate execution of an obstacle course race. Afterwards, competitors rucked to the M4 rifle and the Army's new M17 handgun ranges for weapon qualifications. Luka, having shot the M17 only once before this competition, scored in the top three of 80 shooters during this event.
On the final day of the competition, teams navigated to Red Cloud Range to conduct a timed, live-fire hipshoot and direct-lay on an 81-mm mortar system. Bumgarner and his team were commended for executing this event with a top five completion time.
"We manipulate the heavier 120-mm systems at Fort Riley so much in training, that the 81-mm system was almost effortless," said Peden in a testament to the team's ability to aggressively attack this final event.
The conclusion of the 2019 Best Mortar Competition resulted with an overall winning team from the 82nd Airborne Division. Although our Big Red One Soldiers did not bring the trophy home this year, these mortarmen left the competition stronger, tougher and more lethal with lessons to share with their unit and Soldiers from their experience.