The Army’s inaugural Best Mortar Competition pit seven four-man teams against each other to find the best of the best this month.
But members of the 82nd Airborne Division team — which led from start to finish of the three-day competition — never felt like their team was limited to four soldiers.
Instead, Staff Sgt. James Pennington, Sgt. Ryan Mosser, Cpl. Jacob Nolan and Cpl. Alec Norton said they had more than 17,000 All American paratroopers behind them.
“We didn’t want to let ourselves down, and we didn’t want to let our division down,” Pennington said.
The 82nd Airborne Division team, hailing from 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, brought the Best Mortar trophy back to Fort Bragg last week after edging teams from the 75th Ranger Regiment, which placed second, and the 101st Airborne Division, which placed third.
In winning the competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, the 82nd Airborne team also fulfilled lofty goals they placed on themselves after a strong showing during a pilot competition last year.
All American teams placed first and third in that event, the soldiers said. This year’s team was a combination of those teams.
“We wanted to go back and take it by storm,” Pennington said. “Our goal wasn’t just to win. It was to dominate.”
The competition included a variety of physical fitness events; mortar-specific tasks designed to test tactics, techniques and procedures; live-fire ranges with a 60mm mortar system, M-4 and M-240B; obstacle course; and confidence course.
Mosser said the competition wasn’t easy. It tested the soldiers physically and technically and provided them little time to rest.
“They attempted to demoralize us,” he said. “But it never happened.”
Sometimes operating on little sleep, the soldiers said they leaned on each other to push through.
And they found motivation in the support they received from their leaders at Fort Bragg, including senior leaders who traveled to Fort Benning to cheer them on.
“It was a notable morale boost,” Pennington said.
But the support also brought added pressure.
“We train to win. We expect to win. Not only for ourselves, but others expect the same,” Nolan said.
A Soldier of the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division fires an 81mm mortar at Fort Campbell, KY, Aug. 4 during a live-fire exercise. "Bandit” Soldiers received hands on training on the 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortar systems.
He said the team worked well together, adapting to individual strengths and weaknesses. That was despite not being able to train as a team for very long ahead of the competition.
Officials said the 82nd Airborne Division team had a 12-week training program to prepare for the event. But because the 3rd Brigade Combat Team is on the Global Response Force mission, they had to condense the training to two weeks.
The Global Response Force is tasked with deploying anywhere in the world on short notice. Pennington said that readiness posture helped the soldiers overcome the shortened timeline and set them up for success.
“No one else was as prepared,” he said. “In the 82nd, we’re never sitting around waiting for something. We’re always training. We’re always focused on the details.”
At Fort Benning, that focus showed, the soldiers said.
“We’re the 82nd. We’re better than everyone else,” Pennington said.
The soldiers said they now aim to start a tradition of dominance in the Best Mortar Competition. Pennington promised the 82nd Airborne Division would work twice as hard next year in an attempt to keep the Best Mortar title.
“If they want it,” he said of other units, “they’re going to have to bring it.”
©2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.