By Franklin FisherFebruary 10, 2020
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Fort Benning's prestigious Infantry Week competition -- in which Ranger teams, mortar crews, hand-to-hand fighters and snipers vie under relentless, combat-like conditions for best-in-their-field honors -- will be held here April 14 through 20.
The public is invited to attend.
Infantry Week is hosted annually by the U.S. Army Infantry School, part of Fort Benning's Maneuver Center of Excellence. The MCoE trains and develops the Army's Infantry and Armor forces, which together make up its maneuver force. The Infantry is the branch of the Army's ground combat force whose main role is that of the classic "foot Soldier"-- troops who fight mainly on foot.
Known for its exacting standards and grueling physical demands, Infantry Week comprises four competitions: Best Mortar Competition, All Army Lacerda Cup Combatives Competition, International Sniper Competition and Best Ranger Competition.
The week's events bring together at Fort Benning some of the Army's very best Infantry Soldiers and showcases their fighting skills and warrior ethos, including a "Winning Matters" mentality.
That combination of skills and outlook are crucial to military readiness, and key to being able to fight and win in large-scale, ground combat operations, Infantry School officials say.
"Shooting, moving, communicating -- our mission is to close with and destroy the enemy in close combat," Brig. Gen. David M. Hodne, the Army's Chief of Infantry and commandant of the U.S. Army Infantry School, said of the role of the Infantry. The U.S. Army Infantry, known as the "Queen of Battle," dates its formation to 1775 and the Revolutionary War.
"As it was in 1775, the Infantry still looks at our enemy in the 'whites of their eyes.' So this is a week that showcases how good our Infantry is," said Hodne.
One hallmark of Infantry Week events is the degree to which they approximate the physical and mental rigors of real combat, and the high level of technical Soldier skills the competitors have had to first demonstrate before being chosen to compete in Infantry Week, officials at the Infantry School said.
"Infantry Soldiers have to be able to persevere," said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert K. Fortenberry, the Infantry School's senior enlisted leader and himself a seasoned veteran of Infantry combat. He is also a paratrooper and Ranger.
"And I think that's what Infantry Week really highlights, that physical and mental toughness, and the ability to endure, and ultimately accomplishing the mission or task at hand," he said. "And it takes a special caliber of person to be able to endure and be able to accomplish with those kinds of hardships that they're facing on a daily basis.
"They see a physical and mental challenge, an obstacle that they want to overcome, much like you would on an objective," he said.
"That objective, covered with machine guns, concertina, dug-in fighting positions, trip flares, booby traps -- you name it, and it's you looking to the right and the left and saying, 'Follow me! We're gonna take that damned hill,'" said Fortenberry.
"And," he said, "it's challenging yourself: 'Well, if I'm placed into these situations for real, in a combat environment, do I have the intestinal fortitude, the mental capacity, the physical endurance, to fight all the way through?' And ultimately, I think that's the reward in itself.
"We put them in a very difficult situation with a lot of physical endurance and a lot of physical hardship. And what I think you'll see during Infantry Week is the physical demands and the mental demands that are going to be placed upon the competitors."
Those include operating day and night, long foot marches over rugged terrain, lack of sleep, obstacles courses that have to be toughed through, while still having to maintain presence of mind and use proper techniques during the many tasks they'll be tested on.
Best Mortar Competition (April 15-17)
In the Best Mortar Competition, 30 four-person teams representing their units, compete on their ability to perform a variety of mortar crew tasks of the kind they'd need to use in combat. Those include, among others, firing accurately, responding properly to requests for mortar fire, and moving efficiently as a team across a battlefield setting.
This year its first event starts April 15, a Wednesday.
Competitors will take the Army Combat Fitness Test, the Army's new physical fitness test that will become the official test-of-record for all Soldiers starting this fall. The test is designed to measure fitness based on the strength, stamina, and other physical qualities they'd need in combat.
Also that day, the mortar teams will compete in firing the 60 mm mortar in two situations where in combat they'd have to act quickly and improvise a hasty attack on an enemy target.
In one, using the "hand-held," method, they'd aim a 60 mm mortar by holding the tube with two hands, and firing it using its trigger mechanism. In the other, called the "direct alignment" method, they'd use the field expedient of an aiming stake to help gauge the best way to position the mortar so its rounds will strike the target.
"Both methods are definitely kind of hasty, reacting-to-contact type of tools," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Herrera, an instructor with Mortar Training Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, part of the 198th Infantry Brigade.
That'll be followed by tests on tasks mortar teams have to perform in combat. That part of the day will include a gunner's exam, as well as a test of their ability to handle the physical demands of mortar crew operations, and a test of their skill with a tool called an aiming circle to properly aim their mortars.
In addition, they'll take a written exam on use a piece of the LHMBC, a light-weight, handheld computer used to plot direction and other measurements needed to accurately carry out a mortar fire mission.
Next will be a test of their skill firing the 120 mm mortar, followed by a ruck march of a distance that the competitors will not be told of beforehand. That approximates another stressful reality of combat: the need to press on without necessarily knowing when the strain and pressure might let up.
Ending the first day of the Best Mortar Competition is a night occupation exercise, in which the teams must show their ability to properly move onto a piece of ground and set up security and take other measures so they can occupy that position overnight and fire mortars from it if necessary.
April 16 is Day 2 of the Best Mortar Competition and starts with competitors having to test their skills on an obstacle course and on a course designed to build team spirit and confidence. That'll be followed by a marksmanship event in which they'll use the M4 rifle and M17 service pistol to fire at targets.
Other events scheduled are a test of the ability to use hand grenades, and a "CCC" written exam on the characteristics, capabilities and components of mortars. Typically, questions cover such details as the weight of specific mortar components, or the distance from which the different mortar types can reach their targets.
Competitors will then face another obstacle course, this one mimicking conditions they'd encounter in an urban setting.
Day 2 ends with a night land navigation exercise, in which the crews must make their way across a tract of terrain using map and compass and other navigational techniques.
The final day of the Best Mortar Competition is April 17. It starts with a test of crews' ability to fire mortars using the "hip shoot" and "direct lay" methods. Both methods are used when a mortar crew is on the move and must suddenly stop, set up, and respond to a call for fire.
In the "hip shoot," the crew must quickly set up the mortar, use a compass to ensure it's properly aimed, then provide the needed fire.
Using the "direct lay" method, they are able to see the target and use the mortar's sight to aim their fire.
The Best Mortar Competition's awards ceremony will be held April 17.
Lacerda Cup Combatives Competition (April 14-17)
The All Army Lacerda Cup Combatives Competition runs April 14 through 17.
It brings together 20 teams and what are expected to be about 180 competitors from across the Army to contend for championship titles in hand-to-hand fighting. Each team will consist of eight competitors and one coach.
Male and female competitors vie individually and as teams in eight weight classes: bantamweight, flyweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, cruiserweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight.
During the competition, preliminary and quarter-final rounds will be under standard rules, with rounds lasting no longer than 6 minutes. Semi-final rounds will be under intermediate rules, with rounds not exceeding 10 minutes. Individual championship rounds will use advanced rules, with 16 total matches taking place one at a time, three rounds of 3 minutes each.
Day 1 will be an opening ceremony at the Smith Fitness Center, 6835 Dixie Road, building 2874.
Then come preliminary and quarter-final rounds under standard rules.
On Day 2, April 15, combatives competition continues at Smith, with semi-final rounds, using intermediate rules.
April 16 is set aside for individual championship rounds using advanced rules. The venue will be Fort Benning's Doughboy Stadium, followed by an awards ceremony for the individual weight classes.
The Lacerda Cup Competition ends April 17 with a team championship event in which the top four competing teams must use combatives techniques in a series of tactical scenarios, at the Sniper Course compound.
Under one past Lacerda Cup tactical scenario, for example, teams were tasked with clearing multiple rooms and searching for and subduing enemy combatants.
During this year's competition, the top two teams from the first scenario will advance to a second scenario to compete for the overall championship.
That will be followed by an awards ceremony.
International Sniper Competition
The International Sniper Competition brings together two-person sniper teams representing the U.S. military, international militaries, and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Planners expect about 30 teams to participate.
The competition puts to meticulous test a variety of sniper skills including marksmanship, observation, the ability to scout an area and give a useful report about what's observed, and skill at moving with stealth and concealment. Fort Benning is home to the elite United States Army Sniper Course.
The competition begins with a 7:30 a.m. opening ceremony April 14 at the Sniper Course compound, after which competitors must run about 2.5 miles to Burroughs Range. There, they'll board buses and be dropped off at various ranges where the many tests of their sniper skills will be in play over several days.
"The Sniper Competition is going to take these 30 teams and apply their sniper fundamentals, to be able to employ long-range precision fires, range estimation, advanced camouflage and movement techniques and other field craft skills," said Capt. Gregory Elgort, formerly a commander of the Sniper Course and currently a plans officer with 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, part of the 199th Infantry Brigade here.
The competition also puts a premium on the snipers' ability to figure out solutions to battlefield situations using keen critical thinking and on-the-spot ingenuity.
"An example of the rigors that they're gonna have to face is using their expert target detection and observation skills to identify small or hidden targets in a variety of scenarios or backdrops," said Elgort.
That can involve, for example, having to demonstrate their ability to spot -- from distances of up to 400 meters -- objects as small as a pen, well-concealed inside a treeline.
They will also have to fire their weapons at targets from distances ranging from 5 to 1,500 meters or more.
The schedule for Day 2, April 15, calls for further events on various ranges.
And April 16 is a day especially set up for the public.
To give spectators a clear and exciting look at the world of snipers, organizers are recommending the third day of the competition, April 16, which they've dubbed "Spectator Day," Elgort said.
Spectator Day events are planned for Burroughs and Galloway ranges.
"We are definitely trying to craft Thursday -- day three -- as our 'Spectator Day,' and if anyone was going to try to come and watch I would encourage them to come and see the events occurring on Thursday," Elgort said.
This year's International Sniper Competition ends April 17 with a closing ceremony at 11:30 a.m. at MCoE headquarters, McGinnis-Wickam Hall, on Karker St.
Best Ranger Competition (April 17-20)
The three-day David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition runs from April 17 through 20 and sees the Army's best two-person Ranger teams compete for the title of Best Ranger.
During its three punishing, sleep-deprived days, Ranger teams compete across a 75-mile swath of terrain, shoot at eight firing ranges, and complete a variety of demanding Ranger tasks of the type they'd perform in combat.
The Best Ranger Competition is one of the most prestigious in the U.S. military and is one of the most physically grueling competitions in the world. As is the Army's Ranger School here, its known for its extraordinary physical and mental demands and for the level of proficiency required.
Best Ranger Competition's April 17 opening ceremony at Camp Rogers starts a day that includes, among other events, the rigors of the Malvesti Confidence Course, as well as an urban assault course, competitions in marksmanship and weapons assembly, an obstacle course, and a rugged, timed foot march that typically lasts into the late night. Typically, that march reduces the field of Best Ranger competitors by nearly half.
Scheduled for Day 2, April 18, a Saturday, are a variety of events starting at 1 a.m., to include a series of "stakes" -- events that test various Ranger skills -- like tying knots, shooting accurately, and using proper methods to treat battlefield casualties.
Those "night stakes," at Galloway Range, give way to "day stakes" at Todd Field, followed by an obstacle course at Camp Rogers in the late afternoon. The day's final event is a land navigation test in which competitors rely on map, compass and other means to find their way overland in the dark.
April 19, Day 3, includes one of the cornerstone events of the Best Ranger Competition: the Darby Queen Obstacle Course, at Camp Darby. The course is a one-mile trail that runs through wooded, uneven terrain and confronts competitors with a punishing series of 25 obstacles of various types. They have such names as "Skyscraper," "Tarzan," and "Dirty Name." Competitors must proceed as swiftly as possible through the Darby Queen.
Also scheduled are a "helocast" in which Ranger teams gather their rucksacks, weapons and other gear, enclose them in ponchos forming a bundle that's been prepared to float, and, aboard a helicopter over a body of water, cast themselves and their equipment bundle into the water, and swim off with the bundle to their next objective.
The competitors will also face a Combat Water Survival Assessment that tests their confidence operating in water. In one test they walk across a log positioned 30 feet above water, then crawl the next distance along a rope until, about 20 feet from the start-point, they release their grip and fall into the water.
In the other test, 100 feet above water, they slide down a zip-line cable then drop into the water.
During the final event, at Patton Range, competitors will fire mortars and other weapons, followed by a final buddy run, which Rangers must complete as a team.
The Best Ranger Competition awards ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 20, a Monday, inside McGinnis-Wickam Hall's Marshall Auditorium.
Infantry Week draws numerous high-level Army senior Past Infantry Week events have brought the Chief of Staff of the Army, division commanders and other key leaders, Hodne said.
In addition to such leaders, Hodne is hoping those from the competitors' units will also make their way to Fort Benning to show their support.
"So if their units are sending teams," said Hodne," I'd like certainly to welcome them to Fort Benning so they can cheer on their competitors."
But besides welcoming members from within the military, Fort Benning is also welcoming members of the public, including those from the various communities around the region, Hodne said.
Indeed, to underscore Fort Benning's close relationship with those communities, Hodne noted that this year, certain events that are part of the Best Ranger Competition will be conducted outside Fort Benning in downtown Columbus. They include the timed foot march and several other events.
"We couldn't do without the support of the Fort Benning community," said Hodne. "They have an important role. So this year, part of the Best Ranger Competition will occur off Fort Benning. I think their support is critical. So I invite them to attend our events as well."
Some details of the Infantry Week schedule remain to be finalized. As updates occur, they and other information, including instructions for members of the public who want to attend the events, will be posted online at: https://www.infantryweek.com.
Information about U.S. Army Infantry jobs is online at: https://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/browse-career-and-job-categories.ts-Infantry.html.