The Army Is Looking for Its Best Rangers, Snipers and Hand-to-Hand Fighters

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Teams 7, 36 and 42 make their final strides to cross the finish line April 12 as loved ones, fellow Soldiers and fans stand by at Camp Rogers during the final buddy run at the 2015 Best Ranger Competition. (Photo Credit: Noelle Wiehe)

In April, Fort Benning, Georgia, will hold four simultaneous competitions to find the best Rangers, snipers, combatives experts and mortar crews, putting competitors through a series of mentally and physically exhausting tests during Infantry Week.

"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 in a recent Army news release.

Infantry Week is designed to commemorate the formation of the U.S. Army infantry, which dates back to 1775 and the Revolutionary War, Hodne said.

"As it was in 1775, the Infantry still looks at our enemy in the 'whites of their eyes,’” Hodne said. “So, this is a week that showcases how good our infantry is.”

From April 13-19, Benning will host the Best Ranger Competition, International Sniper Competition, All-Army Lacerda Cup Combatives Competition and Best Mortar Competition.

"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,” Command Sgt. Maj. Robert K. Fortenberry, the Infantry School's senior enlisted leader, said in the release.

"It's challenging yourself … 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.”

Of all the competitions, the David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition is the most physically punishing.

Set for April 17-20, the competition pushes teams of two soldiers through a 75-mile swath of terrain where they will shoot at eight firing ranges, navigate day and night and demonstrate their expertise in Ranger skills in a non-stop scenario with little food or sleep.

Best Ranger also includes extreme physical challenges, such as the one-mile Darby Queen Obstacle Course, which features a punishing series of 25 obstacles. There’s also a speed march with heavy rucksacks that typically takes all night and eliminates roughly half of the teams, the release states.

Related: Once Again, Conventional Army Teams Snag Top Spots at Best Ranger Competition

The International Sniper Competition, scheduled for April 14-17 brings together two-person sniper teams representing the U.S. military, international militaries, and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies

The competition tests competitors on their 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, the release states.

Teams may have to demonstrate their ability to spot objects as small as a pen inside a treeline from distances of up to 400 meters away.

Sniper teams will be tested on their ability to engage targets out to 1,500 meters while demonstrating range estimation, advanced camouflage and movement techniques, as well as other field craft skills, according to the release.

The All-Army Lacerda Cup Combatives Competition runs April 14-17 and is expected to draw about 180 competitors from across the Army, according to the release. Each team will be made up of eight competitors and one coach.

Male and female competitors will fight individually and as teams in eight weight classes -- bantamweight, flyweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, cruiserweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.

During the competition, preliminary and quarterfinal rounds will be under standard rules, with rounds lasting no longer than six minutes. Semifinal 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 three minutes each, according to the release.

The final team championship event will put the top four competing teams through a course where they must use combatives techniques in a series of tactical scenarios, the release states. In the past, teams were tasked with clearing multiple rooms and searching for and subduing enemy combatants, according to the release.

Finally, the Best Mortar Competition, set for April 15-17, will put four-soldier mortar crews through a series of challenges designed to test their ability to perform a variety of mortar crew tasks they might encounter in combat, according to the release.

Crews will have to demonstrate their expertise at firing accurately, responding properly to requests for mortar fire and moving efficiently as a team across a battlefield setting.

Competitors will work with both 60mm and 120mm mortars. They will be tested on their ability to handle the physical demands of mortar crew operations and their skill tool, called an aiming circle, to properly aim their mortars,

They will also take a written exam on the use of a lightweight, handheld computer used to plot direction and other measurements needed to accurately carry out a mortar fire mission, according to the release.

The competition also includes a ruck march of a distance that the competitors will not be told of beforehand, according to the release.

"Infantry Soldiers have to be able to persevere," Fortenberry said. "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. … 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.”

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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