Fort Gordon was the chosen to host the 2021 Grunt Style Vortex Optics Mammoth Sniper Challenge site for its third consecutive year.
Widely known as “the toughest civilian sniper competition in the country,” the event began Jan. 7 with competition preparations that included weapons’ zeroing and ended Sunday at the Tactical Advantage Sportsman’s Complex.
Registration opened in July 2020, and within five hours, all 100 team slots were filled, said, Dov Estroff, TASC facility manager, signifying the competition’s popularity. But only 83 teams stepped off on Day 1 of the event, including four from Fort Gordon. Some had to drop out at the last minute due to sickness or travel restrictions.
Despite concerns early on surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers pushed on and successfully executed the challenge while following mitigation efforts established to protect all participants and members of the community, which included a requirement to adhere to General Order No. 1.
“We went full-speed ahead because we’re an outdoor event,” Estroff said. “We had to change a lot of the staffing arrangements and logistics of that nature, but from a competitor’s standpoint, not much has changed.”
Over the course of three days, competitors rucked more than 30 miles, shot 11 stages and navigated through multiple challenges while carrying everything needed for the weekend to include equipment, food and sleeping gear. The only items they did not need to carry were water and hand sanitizer, which were provided at each stage of the competition. By the end of the event, each team expended approximately 130 rifle rounds and 70 pistol rounds, Estroff said.
Chris Andrews, match director and former competitor, said that while the competition is designed to test one’s shooting and communication skills, one of its main intents is to send competitors home thinking about how they can improve.
“The goal every year is to present new challenges to the team,” said Andrews. “We’re on a lot of the same ranges, but you can make the stages look different even though they’re on the same range. Competitors that come back next year will see a different challenge … it’s kind of a general skillset you develop that you have to adapt on the fly.”
Andrews competed five times prior to deciding that he “had had enough,” before going on to become the event’s director. He still enjoys the sport, but now the challenge lies in organizing all the moving parts and building a competitive match for others to enjoy.
“The thing that’s most satisfying for me is for the staff and competitors to say at the end of the match, ‘Man, that was a well-oiled machine, everything went off on time, competitors were challenged,’” Andrews said.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mawson and Sgt. Kevin Wong, the match director succeeded.
Mawson, with Eisenhower Army Medical Center, and Wong, 297th Military Intelligence Battalion, both veteran competitors, agreed that they could have done things differently and look forward to improving next year
“We both made mistakes, but that’s kind of the name of the game – you’re going to make mistakes,” Mawson said. “Even the best out here are going to make mistakes. That’s the intent of the competition – it’s to learn and to do better next time.”
Adding to what his teammate said, Wong said that effective communication and the ability to receive constructive criticism are key to succeeding.
“As soon as you start losing focus and getting frustrated, that’s when you drop a whole bunch of points,” Wong said.
Staff Sergeants Anthony Warren and Manzhi Warren had a slightly different view of the competition. Also veteran participants, the married couple joked that they used the challenge as “a romantic getaway.”
“It did start with a sunrise walk around the lake, so …” Manzhi, of the 116th Military Intelligence Battalion said.
Joking aside, Anthony, a recruiter with Augusta Recruiting Company, said that he was proud of his wife for completing the challenge, adding that the pandemic made it more challenging for them to train and prepare for the event.
“I think the biggest challenge was that my shooting was nowhere near where it should have been,” Anthony said.
Both said they are looking forward to next year’s event.
“I hope [competitors] go home next week and start thinking about what they would do differently or better next year. Whether you finish first or 30th, you can always do better,” Andrews said.
Prior to the event’s awards presentation, Maj. Gen. Neil S. Hersey, Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commanding general, congratulated participants for completing the challenge and expressed gratitude for the dozens of staff and volunteers who made the event possible, adding that he looks forward to its return next year.
“They made a very complex undertaking look relatively simple,” Hersey said. “This is the third year, and it has gotten better every year.”